THE faces of Philippine football may not be around when the national team plays two competitive matches in the US starting this Sunday, but they expressed confidence the Azkals will do just fine without them.
“I’m sure they’ve been working hard. I’m sure they will do well,” James Younghusband said after the Clear Dream Match Draft on Saturday at the Tuloy sa Don Bosco Foundation in Alabang.
The draft and the actual charity match on August 25 were the primary reasons why James, along with brother Phil, failed to make the US trip.
The Azkals battle the Chicago Inferno on Sunday at 8 a.m. at the Inferno’s turf, the Joe Bean Stadium at Wheaton College, before they take on the US Virgin Islands in a friendly on August 18 in Indiana.
Phil has yet to play both teams before and has no idea on the quality of play of the Inferno, who see action in the Premier Development League, the fourth-tier tournament in the States, and the US Virgin Islands, ranked 178th in the latest Fifa release.
“And that’s sometimes the hard thing when you don’t know what to expect. But hopefully the Philippines will win the games,” said Phil, who turned 25 on August 4.
James echoed Azkals skipper Aly Borromeo’s earlier sentiment that the brothers’ absence would be a chance for their seldom-used players to have more playing time.
“It’s a great opportunity for the other players to show what they can do,” said James, who thinks fellow right winger Misagh Bahadoran could replace him in the starting lineup.
Homegrown Ian Araneta is the possible starting striker in place of Phil, who nevertheless expressed his regret over his unavailability for the national team.
“I wish we could’ve been there, but good luck to the team. I know we have a lot of new players. Hopefully they can jell.”
The popular brothers are expected to return to national team duty on September 5, which marks the start of the Azkals’ series of friendlies against Cambodia, Singapore (September 7), and Laos (September 10).
Meanwhile, the first round of the Clear Dream Match draft saw the brothers take turns in selecting their top five players, before they drew lots in the second round to complete their 20-man roster. They also had one wildcard pick each.
Phil picked the most celebrities for his team, with actors Rafael Rosell, Daniel Matsunaga, Fabio Ide, and media personalities Tony Toni and Paolo Bediones getting selected.
Actor Jake Cuenca, model and Philippine Volcanoes member Andrew Wolff, and DJ Slick Rick are among the prominent members on James’ squad.
Phil and James, who also act as the coaches, likewise announced their assistants. For Phil’s side, its Randy Roxas, the Loyola Meraclo Sparks and United Football League president, while James has Sparks coach Vince Santos and Fr. John Cordero.