WHEN it rains, it pours for Amani Aguinaldo.
Only a week removed from gaining his first senior national team cap, the 18-year-old center-back was blessed with the chance to play against one of his biggest idols in a tune-up game on Thursday night at the Emperador Stadium.
What was expected to be a usual training session turned out to be an eventful one for Aguinaldo and the rest of the Philippine Under-23 men’s football team as they engaged a side bannered by Italian legend Fabio Cannavaro in a friendly that ended in a 2-2 draw.
The tune-up game, which formed part of Team James Younghusband’s preparation for the Clear Dream Match on Saturday, was also a boost for the Under-23 Azkals, who are preparing for the upcoming Southeast Asian Games.
Apart from Younghusband and Cannavaro, Chieffy Caligdong, Jason de Jong, and Misagh Bahadoran were the Azkals mainstays in Team James' fold, which also had international standouts Izzo El-Habib, Jonah Romero, and Yves Ashime, among others.
“Kahit walang training, happy ako na may opportunity na makalaro sila syempre para ma-improve ako as a player tsaka matuto sa kanila kung paano ba maglaro ng top-level football dito sa Pilipinas,” Aguinaldo told Spin.ph in a short chat.
“At lalo na nandun si Fabio Cannavaro na isa sa mga idolo ko,” added the Davaoeño pride, who not only wears the same jersey number (5), but also plays the same position as the Italian World Cup winner and former World Player of the Year.
Aguinaldo, a recent Global FC acquisition who suits up for Far Eastern University in the collegiate level, said he learned a lot just watching Cannavaro.
“Yung composure niya,” Aguinaldo said. “Kahit wala siyang training tapos matagal na siyang hindi naglalaro, nandiyan pa rin ang professionalism at skill.”
Aguinaldo was coming off his first Azkals appearance last week when he replaced James Younghusband in the 0-2 friendly loss against Indonesia in Solo, Central Java.
“Very exciting and I feel very blessed to be given the opportunity kasi sa lahat ng batang kasing age ko nagdi-dream na makalaro sa senior team, parang na-achieve ko na somehow,” Aguinaldo said.
“It’s a small step pa lang sa dreams na gusto kong abutin.”