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Philippines: It Does Not End Tonight; It Begins!

Enough said about the so-called Fil-Foreigners in the Philippine National Football Team. The crowning glory of the Indonesian national team is a player whose name is Christian Gonzales. If he is Indonesian, then I am Tom Cruise. He has an Indonesian wife, though. Will some gorgeous Filipina marry Cesc Fabregas or Steven Gerrard, please!

Having been a football aficionado all my life, I am not about to complain about Gonzales. That is just the way things are in football these days. It is a global game. If Brazilians can represent Japan, an Uruguayan can play for Indonesia. Thank God he is already 35!

Other than Gonzales, Indonesia – at least in the frontline – looked a very ordinary team indeed! Wave after wave of Indonesian attacks led to scoring opportunities in the first half; but unless the ball was at the feet of Gonzales, there really was no threat to our goal.

If it was at the feet of Okto, then Neil Etheridge in the Philippine goal could have gone to the loo to take a leak and he would have come back safe in the knowledge that Okto would not score. Okto on the left wing is fleet-footed and tricky; give him a goalscoring chance and he will miss like a headless chicken.

What a time for Gonzales to score a goal, just before halftime. Psychologically, this is the most opportune time for the team that scores the game’s first goal. It gives the team a lift at a time when both teams are coasting along for the warm comforts of the dressing room. For the team that concedes the goal, this is like being hit by a sledgehammer.

As things happened, it took a very special strike, indeed, by Gonzales to win a game for the second time running. His first shot, in the 42nd minute, was routinely dealt with by our defense. But he was allowed a second bite at the cherry and his second follow-up shot was something dreams are made of. Struck with the left foot, Gonzales’s shot curled wickedly into the upper left hand corner of our goal. Neil Etheridge had no chance whatsoever.

Again, I think I am almost obligated to sing my praises for this lad Neil Etheridge. Other than Gonzales’s goal, there was really nothing that troubled Etheridge too much. Even when the Indonesians got through on goal, he was so large and intimidating moving forward that Indonesian players invariably lost their nerves and our boy always ended up winning the challenges.

When he collided with the Indonesian Yongki in the 50th minute, the latter was out cold for a while. That incident was comforting; it was really good to know that there are those other than Manny Pacquiao in this country who can knock opponents out! But that is mean...

When you come to think about it, Etheridge is only 20. Considering that it is not abnormal these days for goalkeepers to stay in the top flight till they are 40, the lad can keep goal for us for the next 20 years. Maybe I am just being biased – and I have every right to be for the lad – but I actually think he will soon be good enough to play in the Premiership.

How about that, everyone? A Filipino international in the Premiership! Only South Korea among the East Asian nations has a player in the most popular league in the world!

We did have a go at Indonesia in the second half; and the fact that we were able to do so while managing to keep their lead to one goal was like winning the game itself. The 13-1 humiliation at the hands of the same team six years ago is still fresh in my mind; and to lose two legs with 1-nil scorelines is something – then – that I never would have imagined possible.

Our most clear-cut chances came first from Anton del Rosario, whose shot was spilled by the Indonesian goalkeeper; and Caligdong, who just failed to toe-poke the ball after the same goalkeeper had yet again spilled a high ball. In all fairness to Indonesia, I would have been totally surprised had we scored on either chance.

It was a feisty match, this! Our boys were throwing themselves into challenges that yellow cards were, inevitably, drawn from the referee’s pocket. I would not have had it any other way! It was from this feistiness that our boys showed their passion and burning desire to get this for the Filipino people. Your efforts have not gone unnoticed, boys! Well done… Well done, indeed!!!

Chris Greatwich’s red card should not be too much of a concern. The first yellow was from a really hideous challenge; but he was just playing for all of us and I would not put too much into that it. Just a Pinoy with a burning desire to win this for the homeland… But the second one? How could he have seen the goalkeeper advancing when all he had eyes for was the cross coming in from the left? At any rate, I thought the Indonesian goalkeeper made a real meal out of it!

Personally, I still would have preferred that we parked the bus in front of goal like we did against Vietnam; at least for the first half. We were exchanging punches with the Indonesians in the first half like we did in the first leg; and because vast open spaces were opening up in our own half of the field, our defense was sometimes even downright panicky whenever the Indonesians attacked. Even more so as half-time drew closer... This was when, incidentally, the Indonesians scored their game winner.

So, whither now, Philippines? There can only be one answer to that question. It does not end here; rather, it begins! Admittedly, the bubble has burst; but then again, we had gone farther than anyone would have dreamed of when this thing started.

The game has shifted now from the lush green field of the Bung Karno to the board rooms of those who run Philippine football. There is an adrenaline rush running throughout the whole country as a result of the valiant efforts of the men in blue. Sit on your fat bottoms and that rush is dead sooner than you can count from one to ten.

Grab the opportunity – and the sudden attention – and we will one day have a fresh new generation of Filipino football players who will take us not only into the finals of the Suzuki Cup but – who knows – maybe even the totally unexplored territory of the World Cup. This is the only way you can repay the boys for the selflessness they displayed tonight on the Bung Karno that Jose Rizal himself would have been proud of.

We need a couple of tricky wingers for ourselves, somebody to partner Phil Younghusband upfront and somebody in the mould of Fabregas or Arteta to command the middle. Considering how extensive the Filipino Diaspora has been all these years, fnding these players should not be too difficult.

To the boys in blue who played their hearts out tonight at the Bung Karno Stadium, get some rest now boys! You have done the nation proud. We lost the match; but were in no way humiliated. Look not at what you finished tonight, but rather at what you have started. We cannot slip now into the ignominy of being Southeast Asia’s whipping boys. Keep your chins up and soon we will all be playing not just for prestige but for silverware! Well done!!!

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