Finishing third in the recently concluded Philippine Football League (PFL) season, the Azkals Development Team (ADT), composed of players from the Philippines’ national youth teams, made some noise in their debut tournament, as they lifted the local Filipino football community’s spirits with a hopeful preview of what they could bring to the field in the future.
After dropping their first two games, ADT racked up three successive victories to end on a high note. Fresh from their memorable tournament entrance, team members impart their thoughts on the experience and what it meant for their blossoming careers.
Goalkeeper Anton Yared recalls the best part of the unique experience. “The highlight for me would be at the end of our last game against the Stallions when we looked back on our previous games on how we grew and adjusted despite the short league. It was a nice and satisfying feeling,” he expresses.
Winger Carlo Dorin adds that competing against “great” teams like champions United City FC was “challenging” but nonetheless an insightful learning experience.
It was especially tough on the sports world to start back up again, amid the dangers surrounding COVID-19. Once quarantine ended, the players first had to regain match fitness in order to be able to play full 90-minute games.
ADT, for one, had to endure a rigorous training regimen before the season started. “Before nag-start ‘yung league, may three weeks of preparation kami doon sa Balesin [Quezon Province]; three times a day ‘yung training. So, ‘yun puro fitness ‘yung training kasi may ilang months kaming hindi nakapag-training ulit dahil sa COVID,” Dorin recounts.
(Before the league started, we had three weeks of preparation in Balesin Island, Quezon Province; we trained three times a day. So our training was mostly for fitness because there were several months when we could not train due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)
Yared also shares that they were given a three-month-long program of strenuous exercises and a strict diet to keep themselves in shape as much as they could during the lockdown.
But even with such limitations pre-season, the young team excelled playing against veterans. Yared says a key aspect of their impressive performance was that their youth played to their advantage. “Our bodies recover faster and can take more strain which favored us in this short league. Despite the lack of experience, we could definitely outwork them and most of the time, we did,” he concludes.
Building a strong foundation
In a country where basketball is the most popular sport, football’s renaissance in the Philippines only recently began during the 2010s when the Azkals qualified for the AFC Challenge Cup for the first time back in 2012.
While the men’s national team showed promise throughout the decade by winning matches in tournaments with tougher and more experienced opponents, Filipino football fans are yet to witness a feat that could cement the country’s legacy in the football world—qualifying for the FIFA World Cup.
On how the Azkals can gain more success, Yared believes that the ADT program is a stepping stone that will further develop the talent and skill of young players capable of representing our country in the future. “Aspiring football players have something to look forward to. As the ADT FC program [aims] to develop young players [and] to be able to send them overseas for better exposure in football, [it allows] them to grow even more to be able to contribute to the Azkals,” he states.
Inasmuch as the team’s goal is to develop young players, Yared agrees that the experience definitely led him to the right direction. “The feedback from my coach and the experience playing [in] my first league definitely gave me the alidation and push I needed to confirm that I am developing as a player, and a future for a more promising career [is] at reach.” the goalie expounds.
Dorin also sees the tournament as an opportunity for him to improve his game. “For my experience sa PFL, every game may learnings kaya ako nadedebelop.”
(For my experience in the PFL, I was able to develop as a player because of my learnings in every game.)
The youth can be a powerful tool to make a difference for any team in the future. For the Azkals, these young players have the opportunity to create a winning culture by developing their game and garnering qualities that can make them world-class athletes.
Now for Filipino football fans, all they can do is wait and see if the program can lead to achievements that have never been seen before.