THE AFF Suzuki Cup 2020 offers a unique situation for the Philippine Azkals as there is a possibility that the team will be spending their holidays in Singapore and away from their families.
Azkals in Suzuki Cup
Southeast Asia’s top football competition was pushed back to the late 2021 due to the pandemic, and calendared a December 5 to January 1 competition.
As for the Azkals, their final group stage fixture will be on December 18 against Myanmar and if the team placed in the top two in Group A, they will be playing either on December 22 or 23 for the first leg, and either on December 25 or 26 for the second leg of the semifinals.
The two-leg final will then start on December 29, with the conclusion of the tournament to be held in January 1.
Making it to the semifinals isn’t far fetched at all for the Azkals, who have entered the round-of-four in four out of the last five editions since the so-called ‘Miracle of Hanoi’ in 2010.
The Azkals are accepting the situation that they will be playing on Christmas and New Year if their campaign goes well.
“I feel so happy to be here,” said Azkals striker Bienve Marañon on Thursday during a press conference organized by TAP DMV, the rights holder for the AFF Suzuki Cup broadcast. “Also, my family is very happy that I stay here.”
“Christmas is every year. Playing with the Azkals, it’s not every year,” said Marañon.
Azkals coach Scott Cooper acknowledged that it was already difficult in itself when informing the players and their families that they will be away for quite a while, let alone if they will be gone during the holidays.
“That’s an area that you always think is a difficult one. The Thai and Vietnamese teams, it’s not so prevalent as it is for Filipinos and our nation in terms of Christmas. It’s a little bit easier for them. Maybe that’s why games are scheduled for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day. It can be difficult when you speak to the players because you know the players are always going to be okay. It’s how the wife feels or the daughter or the son feels. Quite often, my message is tempered so that they can share it with their wives and I’m not the bad guy in that sense,” said Cooper.
But Cooper has also relayed to the Azkals that they are already in the situation, and the best thing to do is make the best out of it.
“Part of the nature of football is you are not always going to be home,” Cooper said. “I’m saying to my wife earlier that I think I’ve been in my house for six or seven days in the last four months. I’m not even a household name in my own household anymore. For me, it’s a challenge.”
“But I’m a big Christmas fan and New Year. I like being around with family. If you are going to be away from them at that time, then make it count. That’s what I say. Let’s try to give everybody an extra Christmas present and enjoy ourselves,” said Cooper.
Longtime Azkals player Martin Steuble, for his part, said he was able to spend quality time with his family before going to Singapore for the Suzuki Cup.
“There will be Christmas the next year and the following year,” said the Muangkan United footballer. “I think it’s not too bad to spend some time playing football for the Azkals. Besides that, I was lucky enough to spend a few days to see my family.”
“Christmas is about being together, spending time with each other. We kinda did that. We had a chance to do that. Now, the full focus is on football and on the Azkals. We will celebrate Christmas the following year for sure,” said Steuble.
Maranon will be playing for the first time in an Azkals uniform after the naturalization process was finished last July, and for him, he wants to make his debut a special one with a goal of playing football until the first day of 2022.
“For me, I come here. I would like to be until January 1. That means that we did something great,” Maranon said. “And my family supports me. Also everybody have to know that in football, to play with the Azkals, it doesn’t matter the day that you come, you have to come, and you have to enjoy.”