MANILA — Philippine Football Federation (PFF) president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta has expressed optimism over the national football teams’ campaigns in the 30th Southeast Asian Games kicking off on Monday at Rizal Memorial Stadium.
Araneta, who saw action in three SEA Games tournaments from 1977 to 1983, believes the Young Azkals and the Malditas are armed with enough preparation to deliver a strong showing at home.
The first and only medal so far, in the sport came 34 years ago in Thailand when the women’s team nailed a bronze as the field only had three teams.
The prospects are bright for the teams this year with Araneta expecting breakout performances from several homegrown standouts.
“We expect some hidden gems to be unveiled. I am confident that our players will be able to seize their chance and show that there is continuous improvement in Philippine football,” Araneta said.
Reinforced by Azkals captain Stephan Schrock and experienced defender Amani Aguinaldo, the Young Azkals are the first to plunge into action on Monday, 8 p.m. against Cambodia in Group A.
The Malditas, who trained in Japan for a couple of weeks last month, open their campaign against Myanmar at 8 p.m. on Tuesday at Binan Football Stadium.
Six players in the 20-man roster of the Young Azkals are part of the senior team, which Araneta said augurs well for the team’s campaign. Ateneo star Jarvey Gayoso is also part of the squad together with San Beda standouts Mar Diano, Michael Asong and Jerome Marzan.
Marco Casambre, Pocholo Bugas, Troy Limbo and Mariano Suba are also among the homegrown stars of the team.
Araneta said the SEA Games is a good opportunity for the Philippines to showcase its young football talents.
“We have young players who are products of the grassroots programs of their respective provinces as well as foreign-based players with experience so there is a good balance to our team,” he added.
Araneta took the time to visit the Young Azkals’ training at Rizal Memorial Stadium on Saturday and delivered an impromptu pep talk, thanking the players for their hard work and sacrifice for the country.
“As an athlete, there is no greater honor than representing the country. You wear the flag of the Philippines with pride. I know that you’re prepared and we expect you to give everything for the country because you are playing at home. I’m confident you’ll do well. We thank you for your sacrifice,” he said. (PR)