The Men in the Arena*

Originally posted in Pinoyfootball.

Philippine National Team captain and veteran defender Rob Gier summed up the match versus Turkmenistan quite succinctly during the post-match press conference.

“It was a tough game, it was totally, totally different from the Cambodia game,” he says, adding that the match versus Cambodia placed the limelight on the Philippines’ attackers. “(The Turkmenistan game) was all about the defenders. It just goes to show the different aspects of the team together, to be successful.”

“I think what’s special about this team is the team spirit,” Gier continues, pointing out that taking on the Turkmen demanded a lot from the Azkals, and the boys could not have done it if they didn’t get along. “We do it for the team, for the country, and for everyone that supports us.”

Indeed, it does take a very special group of people to achieve what these guys have achieved in quite a short span of time.

Consider 2012 a banner year for the Azkals with all the achievements and “firsts” they’ve managed to rack up—setting the stage quite nicely for a strong start in official matches this 2013. The 8-0 win versus Cambodia wasn’t just a victory—it was a statement.

And even that somewhat pales to the statement that was made when the Philippines finally beat Turkmenistan, 1-0.

Much has been and will be said about the match, including that particularly memorable shot by Phil Younghusband into the opening seconds of the game, how we started strongly, and managed to hold onto the lead despite being down to ten men.

All the credit goes to this team.

Credit Phil Younghusband for the goal, and credit him for all the times that he’s tried and missed and failed. He’ll keep fighting for those goals, as he had done with over 30 before. Credit him for the times he’s had to deal with one too many defenders eager to take him down.

Credit Javier Patiño for bringing the quality to the strike force that we had been badly missing and that Phil Younghusband needs to draw defenders away from him. Credit him for bringing the ball to the goal each chance he gets and for threatening opponents whenever he can.

Credit Jerry Lucena and Chris Greatwich for providing adequate defensive cover and finding the open men to attack.

Credit Carli de Murga and Angel Guirado for the Spanish flair that they bring to the right flank.

Credit Rob Gier and Juani Guirado for being staunch on defense, for giving us a sense of security even in those moments when momentum was turning in favor of Turkmenistan, in those moments when they tried their best to breach our back line.

Credit Roland Müller for the clean sheets he’s produced in these two very important games. Credit him for his solid, steady hands, for proving himself worthy of the starting spot in a position with several viable options. Credit him for no longer being defined as just a second choice.

Credit Dennis Cagara for his consistency. Against Turkmenistan, he effectively snuffed threats coming from his side. Credit him for playing a critical role in the play that led to Phil Younghusband’s goal to lift us past the Turkmen. Credit him for us having a dangerous left flank.

Credit Stephan Schröck for everything that he brings to this team. Credit him for always fighting for the ball, for managing a way out even when the opponents close down on spaces. Credit him for standing up a half-second later when he’s brought down, showing what tenacity is. Credit him for making things happen, not just for himself, but also for his teammates. Credit him for being a spark on the left flank, together with Cagara, relentless in attacking. Credit him for instilling in all of us a belief that we can overcome each opponent we are faced with.

Credit all the players that have seen limited or no playing time. Credit them for helping prepare this unit to achieve another milestone in Philippine football.

The match versus Turkmenistan proved to be a difficult hurdle—and one where lessons could be learned from hard work and experience. Credit the men in the arena for fighting tooth and nail for making another statement and for booking a place in Maldives in 2014.

*Title inspired by Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” quotation.

**And there is one man in that arena that I was particularly rooting for, largely because he has finally been given playing time in the national team. He had a nice little gesture the day after as well, and this is why I’ll continue supporting him.



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