Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Vietnam Deja Vu

by Regin S. Reyno

Bangkok-The 65,000-seating capacity of Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkapi district wasn't full. Nevertheless, the spirit and the passion of football wasn't diminished. In the E2 section of the stadium was a very large red cloth with a star at the center. Yes, it's the Vietnam flag, together with thousands of fans with their horns and flags, drums and pom poms. They were shouting and chanting.  

In the E1 side, just below the E1 section were the Kaholeros (from the root word kahol which means bark). They are the fans and supporters of Philippine national football team called Azkals or street dogs. Philippine flags, blue scarves, blue and white shirts, and two men wearing bahag, a loincloth worn by the mountain tribes of northern Philippines. They came all the way from the Philippines just to watch the matches in Bangkok. They were shouting, and chanting like there's no tomorrow. 

And the rest of the stadium, were dispersed Vietnamese, Filipinos and some Thais. Yes, it was the Vietnam vs. Philippines match in the group stage of the ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup 2012. The most prestigious and toughest football competition in the region. 

It was a rematch of the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup between the two teams-where then host and defending champion Vietnam suffered a humiliating defeat from the underdog Filipinos. 

Since football is not popular in the Philippines, the Philippine Football Team was always an underdog in international competitions. Teams considered it a walk-over whenever they face the Philippines. Who can forget the thrashing of Indonesia 13-1 over Philippines during the 2002 AFF Suzuki Cup, then called AFF Tiger Cup?

Having suffered a humiliating 0-2 defeat in their own turf-courtesy of Cris Greatwich and Phil Younghusband-Vietnam, the highest FIFA ranking country in this tournament, wanted to avenge their defeat. 

The kick-off started at 5:30 pm Bangkok time, and the Vietnamese as usual, gave  aggressive attacks. Having the best striker in Southeasteast Asia through Le Cong Vinh, Vietnam's attacks are very dangerous.

But the Philippines, composed of Filipino booters from Europe, US and homegrown Filipinos, kept their cool and their defense tight. They mainly relied on counter-attacks, same strategy that they did to Vietnam two years ago.

With lack of a very good midfielder because of the absence of Bundesliga player Stephan Schrock, the Philippines can't do an attacking football. So with a 4-4-2 formation, they made sure they defended their post well.

The Vietnamese kept on pounding Philippines' goal. They kept most of the ball possession. But the Philippine defenders and goalkeeper Ed Sacapano of Philippine Army, displayed brilliance in protecting the goal.

At half-time the score was still 0-0. 

In the second half, substitute and captain Chieffy Caligdong along with former Malaga FC player Angel Guirado, and Dennis Wolf of FC Global went in for Reichelt, De Jong and Phil Younghusband. The game immediately changed- with Philippines gaining more possession and control.

Then in the 85th minute, a beautiful pass from Guirado to Caligdong sent the ball at the back of the net.  Goal! We Filipino fans were shouting! A feeling of euphoria was felt. Philippine flags were waving, Filipinos jumping and screaming and Caligdong went to the E1 section where the Kaholeros were.

The Vietnam crowd was stunned. Suddenly the drums became silent. The Vietnamese players were in disbelief. It's like they've already seen this moment before. When was it? 

As the final whistle was blown and the score reads 1-0 Philippines, the Vietnamese knew they've seen this before. O yes, in 2010. 

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