BANGKOK – One chapter opened and another closed for Emelio "Chieffy" Caligdong on Friday.
On the same day the Philippine men’s football team sealed a return trip to the semifinals of the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup following its 2-0 blanking of Myanmar, the longtime Azkal was honorably discharged after a long service with the Air Force.
“Mister na ako ngayon, hindi na sergeant,” the pride of Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo said. “Happy ako sa life ko sa Air Force and happy rin ako sa magiging buhay ko as a civilian.”
Caligdong is now weighing his options, torn between staying in the Philippines to accept offers to play for other professional clubs in the United Football league or migrating with his family in the US.
But the 5-foot-5 left-winger is also focused on the task at hand, which is to help the Azkals reach new heights in Southeast Asia's premier football competition, especially now that the team is set to finally play a home tie for the first time in the tournament.
If Caligdong had his way, the Azkals skipper said he would rather face a team which, like the Philippines, has a small home stadium. He pointed to Singapore as an ideal opponent as its home pitch, the Jalan Besar Stadium, only has an 8,000 seating capacity.
“Mas maganda siguro kung maglaro sa small na stadium,” he said. “Kaya kung ako papipiliin, Singapore ang magandang makalaban natin. Siyempre wala masyado yung crowd.
“Minsan nakaka-distract sa malaking stadium, lalo na eighty to one hundered thousand (people) yung sumisigaw, hindi mo marinig yung communication."
The Azkals skipper, it turned out, got his wish.
In Group B action in Kuala Lumpur which wrapped up on Saturday, Singapore came from behind to beat Laos, 4-3, to emerge as group topnotcher. Singapore now faces the Azkals in a home-and-away tie, with the Philippines hosting the opener at the Rizal Stadium on December 8.
Singapore ended the group stage level on six points with Malaysia, which beat Indonesia, 2-0, but emerged topnotcher owing to a better goal difference.
The Azkals had beaten Singapore twice in friendlies ahead of the Suzuki Cup wars.
Malaysia takes on Group A topnotcher Thailand in the other semis tie beginning on December 9 in Kuala Lumpur.
Caligdong was one of the heroes of the Azkals campaign in this year’s Suzuki Cup, having scored the lone goal in the team’s 1-0 repeat win over Vietnam.
“Sobrang saya kasi lahat ng preparation after two years nakuha natin,” Caligdong said. “Yung desire ng team nandun, eager manalo, sa pag atake at pag depensa. Deserving lahat.”
“Ito na yung chance natin na makabawi sa semifinal,” he added. “Kung ano yung pinakita namin sa group stage, ma-improve pa namin. May one week preparation pa."