BEFORE I proceed with this sports column, allow me to extend my deepest sympathies to those affected by yesterday’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan. We can only hope for the least number of casualties and damage, for the safety of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos working there, and for the nation’s quick recovery.
On a positive note, it was a relief to learn that the Azkals players training in the Japanese City of Gotemba right now are in no danger, as what team manager Dan Palami relayed online.
“Azkals are safe... felt the tremors but otherwise okay. Airports have been closed, hopefully it won’t affect flight to Mongolia tomorrow,” Palami said in his message posted on filipinofootball.blogspot.com yesterday.
Palami’s message was enough to reassure Azkals fans who were deeply worried for the team’s well-being.
Before that, however, the fans were already concerned with far less consequential events, especially at how the team was doing in the subzero conditions at the foot of snow-covered Mt. Fuji where they trained. The news reports weren’t good.
Last Wednesday, the team lost 4-0 to Kanto University, then yesterday 8-1, both warm-up matches for the second leg of their AFC Challenge Cup qualifying match against Mongolia on March 15 in expectedly worse weather.
The two successive drubbings from a college team sent many fans panicking on Facebook and Twitter, some with remarks that were not only uncalled for but foolish.
Of course, these comments were knee-jerk, as these didn’t take into consideration the fact that the players were still acclimatizing to the weather that ranged from 0 to -5 degrees.
“The cold really took a toll on the player’s bodies,” Palami said in a report by Cedelf Tupas of the Inquirer, adding that it would take a day or two for them to get used to the weather.
Just imagine the toll that the freezing conditions take on players who have spent most of their footballing lives in sunny weather, such as Emilio Caligdong and Ian Araneta, whose mobility suffered terribly from the biting cold, as what Palami revealed in the news report.
With that, football fans must realize that the performance of the players against the college team was far from a hundred percent.
On the other hand, it would be reasonable for the coaching and training staff to advise its players to “take it easy” against their opponents because their main goal in Japan is to acclimatize anyway.
Wouldn’t it be foolish to instruct players, quivering from the cold, to play with the same intensity as they would in a tropical country without having adapted to the weather?
Besides, there’s also reason to believe that in both warm-up matches, unnecessary injuries needed to be avoided, and so therefore, it wouldn’t make sense to stretch the players’ physical limits in a friendly match.
So the Azkals lost to a college team. Big deal.
Remember, the team is preparing for another team whose capabilities and limitations were exposed in the match in Bacolod City a month ago, a revelation certainly not lost on the coaching staff.
The only other issue of real concern is how well the Azkals’ acclimatization process is proceeding and whether they’d be in good form by March 15.
For peace of mind, it would do well for fans in doubt to just forget the 4-0 and 8-1 losses to a college team.
If that wont’ do, then I’ll just have to remind them that last Nov. 27, the same Azkals team lost 8-0 to Nakhon Pathom FC, a level two club in Thailand, during a warm -up match for the AFF Suzuki Cup 2010.
With such a beating, some pundits just gave up on the Philippine team and their chances in Southeast Asia’s biggest football tournament.
But barely a week after, the Azkals silenced the pundits with a shock 1-1 draw against Singapore, before staging the biggest upset in the tournament’s history by humbling defending champions Vietnam 2-0 days later.
What does this prove? Among others, losing in warm-up matches does not equate to a disaster. So to all jittery Azkals fans, do yourselves a favor—relax in time for the big game. It’s just three days away, in case you’ve forgotten.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 12, 2011.
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