Undermanned U-16 Azkals still upbeat on chances
MANILA, Philippines – Despite setbacks in completing the 22-man team, an undermanned Under-16 Azkals flew to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia on Monday with the confidence it can do well against the big boys in the AFC U-16 Championship Qualifiers.
National coach Anto Gonzales will be banking on rising striker JB Borlongan, whom he said is the most consistent offensive player in the team.
Borlongan, a third year high school student from Abbas Orchard School in Cagayan de Oro, showed a promising future in the 2013 Fam-Frenz Asean Championship and the Asian Football Federation (AFF) U-16 Championship where he ended up as the team's top scorer.
Aside from Borlongan, Gonzales will also rely on midfielders Mark Winhoffer and Darius Diamante and defender Josh Miller as well as goal keeper Michael Asong, who also showed flashes of brilliance in their past couple of tournaments since the formation of the squad.
Completing the 19-man roster are defenders John Abraham, Rexon Capellan, Marco Casambre, Brian Haim, Christian Lapas, Kintaro Miyagi; midfielders Jovan Marfiga, Sebastian Patangan, Javier Romero-Salas and Ray Sanciangco; forwards Dimitri Limbo and Vincent Lovitos and back-up keepers Harel Dayan and Jose Yared.
“We’re counting on our fighting 19,” said Philippine Football Federation secretary general Atty. Ed Gastanes during the send-off dinner Sunday night at the PFF headquarters.
Only 19 of the 22 young boys selected were given the green light to join the trip as the perennial problem of mother clubs, this time the schools, in releasing players to national team duties has plagued the federation once again.
“We’re looking seriously into that. We will address that issue. The federation, for the last few years, has been revising regulations, adapting regulations, and will be issuing regulations,” added Gastanes, who cited the earlier case of Phil and James Younghusband, who were not included in the Peace Cup lineup after missing sometime in practice.
"We're not afraid to do the same on all levels," Gastanes said.
The U-16 Azkals will miss the services of Far Eastern University’s Chester Gio Pabualan, Renz Saldivar and Orlan Togores, who were released only at the last minute but still failed to attend the last practice for some reason before the team departed for Malaysia forcing Gonzales to scrap them from the lineup.
La Salle, meanwhile, begged off to release another key player James Sambalod for academic reasons.
Gonzales described Sambalod as crucial to their campaign being a utility player who could also play the striker position.
“If the reason is academic, we will go along because education is still the priority,” Gastanes said.
The U-16 Azkals will open their campaign in Group J against powerhouse Japan on Wednesday, Indonesia on Friday then round up their campaign against Vietnam on Sunday.
"We're approaching the game against Japan not to play to park the bus but we intend to play possession football," Gonzales said.
"We've played against Indonesia in the AFF (U-16) Championship and I thought we played our best game against them," Gonzales said referring to a hard-fought 1-3 loss where Borlongan scored the Phl's lone goal.
"We've scouted Vietnam and I think we have a strong chance against them," said Gonzales, who will get plenty of help from technical consultant Thomas Roy.
Roy, a UEFA-licensed coach was loaned by the German Football Association, to help develop the grassroots program of the federation for two years.
The winners of the 10 groups and the five best runner-ups will join host Thailand next yet in the AFC U-16 championships.