Guam’s national men’s football team may be ranked 194th in the newly-released FIFA rankings, but this small fact does not in any way discourage coach Gary White.
He puts it quite succinctly. “The game on paper may look like there is much disparity in the levels from our age, experience and national pool of players, but thankfully the game is decided on the field not on paper. Don’t underestimate the power of belief and desire mixed with direction leadership and opportunity.”
On the occasion of the country’s 114th anniversary of independence, the Philippines will yet again seek to defend its territory against an invading foreign country, albeit within the four corners of the football field. Bacolod is the chosen venue for the match, and it provides an interesting alternative to the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
Amidst concerns by some sectors as to the lack of atmosphere in the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in Manila, Philippine football fans are looking at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod for inspiration. Based on history, it has come looking at the right place.
Long before football became a by-word in the country, Panaad was already hosting full-house crowds for the Philippine football team. Recent fans of the Azkals have fond memories of the stadium, where the team took its first step in a successful run to the Challenge Cup this year by beating Mongolia, 2-0.
Visayas fans have long clamored for a home game for the Azkals in the football hotbed that is Panaad Stadium. Against Guam on June 12, they have been granted their wish. The challenge now is for Panaad to deliver a packed venue for the Azkals, complete with an excellent atmosphere befitting a home crowd, a challenge that I am sure fans down South will meet.
On the field however, anything less than a victory for the Azkals would be and should be considered a disaster. Dubbed “the strongest Philippine football team ever assembled,” victory is expected from the Azkals against an opponent ranked miles below them. This lofty expectation comes especially after successive draws against potential Suzuki Cup opponents Malaysia and Indonesia in the last week.
So far, Coach Weiss has used these series of friendlies to test player combinations and to tinker with his line-up. Personally, I see no reason why he should not do otherwise in Panaad. However, the desire and the need to win, after two draws, might be too great and Weiss might opt to start out with the strongest available line-up. This starting eleven should unquestionably include Neil Etheridge and the Younghusband brothers Phil and James.
As it may be the final home game of the Azkals for quite a while, it would be important to blood in such players as Roxy Dorlas, Lexton Moy, Patrick Reichelt and Jeffrey Christiaens to the mix. Returning captain Aly Borromeo would certainly welcome a run-out in Panaad, eight months after suffering an ACL injury last year.
Guam coach White, on the other hand, is not the least bit concerned with the Azkals’ need for a victory. “The Azkals hunger does not affect my thoughts and any hunger they may have for a win is nowhere near close the famine our team has to showcase our style, development and players.”
Guam comes in to the game against the Philippines with nothing to lose and everything to gain. The young Matao, the football team’s new identifying nickname, are prepared and hungry for success. They have done their research and have produced detailed dossiers and scouting analysis on the Azkals players.
Guam international Jonathan Romero, who plays professional football for Kaya FC in the United Football League in the Philippines, would have undoubtedly briefed his teammates on the Azkals. The Matao are full of youth, ambitious and motivated. Hopes are high that come Independence Day, the Azkals do not take them for granted.
** Guam is scheduled to play UFL sides Global FC on June 14 and Stallion FC on June 16 at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium. Both matches will kickoff at 7 p.m.
Ryan Fenix is InterAKTV’s resident football analyst. His football column Rampaging Fullback appears exclusively on the site. He runs the football blog The Prawn Sandwich Brigade and covers football for AKTV on IBC. For more football discussion, follow him on Twitter.
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