AT two past midnight on Thursday, in the dimly-lit sports bar at the basement of their hotel in Bangkok, Rob Gier, Chris Greatwich, Phil Younghusband and James Younghusband were the remaining customers, sitting quietly at a roundtable.
The four remnants of the 2010 Philippine men’s football team that made history and brought the country back on the Southeast Asian football map were together once again in reflection of their latest heartbreak only hours before.
For the third consecutive time, the Azkals failed to get past the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup semifinals as the finals berth remained elusive.
It was not a hard pill to take four years ago when they had already made a breakthrough by entering the knockout stage for the first time after an improbable performance in the group stage, including the celebrated 2-0 stunner of Vietnam in the opponent’s turf.
With more expectations in 2012, the Filipino booters fell short anew at the expense of Singapore.
This year, with the stakes highest, the Azkals succumbed to a Thailand side that stamped its class with a 3-0 victory in the second leg of the semifinals at the Rajamangala Stadium.
Now, the Azkals are licking their wounds.
You think the agony would be less excruciating after the third time? Not really, especially for the four veterans.
“It never gets easier,” Gier said.
“We’re just disappointed,” Phil Younghusband added. “There’s still a barrier we have to get over and it’s the same barrier we didn’t get past couple tournaments.”
Sadly, Gier can’t explain what’s keeping them from breaking through the next level.
“Obviously there’s still something standing in the way of the team,” the Azkals skipper said. “I don’t know quite what it is, why we can’t just get over that final little hurdle.”
“We always seem to be on the outside of the party looking in at the end of the day and that’s the most frustrating thing,” he added.
Still, there are a lot of positives to take from the setback.
“I think we showed we can pass the ball and we can create chances by passing the ball,” Younghusband said as the team put on a dazzling display of teamwork in their first two matches in the group stage, a 4-1 win against Laos, and a 4-0 shutout of Indonesia.
Give credit to Azkals coach Thomas Dooley, who has instilled an attractive style of play, which the Azkals have learned to adapt.
“Overall, I’m still happy with the way we played,” the German-American mentor said. “I can say we can go back home with our heads held high.”
The tournament was another great experience, moving forward in the right direction,” Dooley added. “We just didn’t have the trophy and that’s what we’re playing for.”
For team manager Dan Palami, there’s little time to dwell on what happened as they set their sights on the future.
“I don’t know if I can say I’m getting used to it, but a loss is always painful, especially this one because I know we could’ve gotten it if we had our composure,” he said. “But we have to prepare for the World Cup Qualifiers and the squad needs to be better if we are going to expect that we do well.”