By Mike T. Limpag
The Southeast Asian Games is set to open a week from now but as usual, football will usher in the competition with the opening matches today.
And the Philippines marks its return to the biennial competition after missing out the last two editions against one of the toughest teams, Vietnam, today at 5 p.m.
Sure, the Philippines may have upset mighty Vietnam in the Suzuki Cup, 2-0, last year, but there’s only one player in that squad who’s seeing action in the SEAG—Jason de Jong.
Some fans often overlook the fact that like the Olympics, the SEA Games is a competition for Under 23 players but unlike the Olympiad, there’s no additional three “over-age” players in the biennial meet.
So, temper your expectations because whatever the Azkals have done the past year mean nothing in the SEAG. The Azkals aren’t playing, the junior Azkals are.
But I’m hoping for a great SEAG showing from this team, a young squad that has a lot of potential and I hope it won’t suffer the same fate as the 2005 team.
Coach Michael Weiss has asked fans not to put too much pressure on his young team, some of whom are still eligible for another SEAG.
That was the case, too, in 2005—as guys like Phil and James Younghusband, Michael Casas, Arnie Pasenabo and nine others were eligible for the 2007 edition, but sadly, we didn’t send a team.
And I don’t think that will happen again.
Among the guys who are eligible for another meet is back-up keeper Paolo Pascual, who started this year on the outside looking in, but now counts being a footballer as a full-time job.
After turning down invitations to join the Long Teng Cup and the Suzuki Cup last year, Paolo took a huge gamble by quitting school during the mid-terms and trying out for the team.
So far, it has paid off . And this humble keeper has been a source of pride to his parents, Drs. Chona and Joel, sisters Niña and Carmel and to the Cebuano football community.
I hope Paolo and the rest of the team do well in the SEAG.
Aside from Paolo, other notable Cebuanos seeing action in the SEAG are Niño Surban and Rheyjey Ortouste.
Like Paolo, these guys don’t give up.
Niño, discouraged by the infighting of the cycling association, simply did his riding do the talking and after beating members of the PH team in a tournament in Malaysia just last week, was inserted to the squad.
Rheyjey, 17, has been training diligently in Cebu and is set to join the sepak takraw team as the youngest member.