Thursday, 16 February 2012

Dubai Pinoys give Azkals rock star treatment

By Alfonso Ramirez

DUBAI — Members and coaching staff of the Philippine national men’s football team faced a busy Wednesday, the morning after arriving from Doha where they won their friendly match against Qatar Star League first division club Al Ahli SC.

Now minus German-Filipino goalkeeper Roland Mueller who had to report back to his Bundesliga second division club, MSV Duisburg, and fan favorites James and Phil Younghusband who flew back to Manila to attend to prior commitments “that couldn’t be rescheduled,” the Azkals plunged into a noon practice at the Al Maktoum Stadium practice pitch immediately after making an appearance at The Philippine School in Al Rashidiya, also in Dubai.

The Azkals welcomed its number one goalkeeper, Neil Etheridge who also arrived in Dubai on Tuesday after he was cleared by his club, Fulham, to join the national team’s training camp.

An estimated 200 grade school students of The Philippine School mobbed the Azkals in a morning pep rally organized by the team’s Middle East tour organizer, Mediapro.

“We had a similar thing in Doha. It was really awesome. I’d say, it’s like the Beckhams coming to the school,” Chris Bayliss, project coordinator of Mediapro, told InterAKTV.

Azkals vice-captain Chieffy Caligdong introduced the members of the team with Etheridge, Angel and Juanito Guirado, and Misagh Bahadoran receiving the loudest applause, as wide-eyed grade schoolers tried to press onto the stage to ask for the national footballers’ autographs.

Augustus Xavier Alparce, a Grade 7 student who is also a member of the school’s football team, said the Azkals visit will further inspire him to make good in the sport.

“Pagbubutihin ko po ang paglalaro para sana balang araw maging Azkal rin po ako,” Alparce said.

After practice, the Azkals motored to the Jebel Ali International Shooting Club to call on Sheikh Saeed Bin Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, a member of Dubai’s ruling family.

Al Maktoum, a world champion shooter, represented the UAE in skeet shooting in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics in skeet shooting. He also participated in the 2006 Asian Games in Doha and 2007 Pan Arab Games.

The sheikh, who was practicing his shots, shot a perfect practice record of 125 out of 125 in the lead up to his participation in July’s London Olympics.

With the Azkals tour coming to an end it was an inspirational meeting that will live long in the memory for the players and coaching staff.

“The visit was incredible. I will use it now again and again as a reminder to the boys, when things aren’t going so well, to see a man who has everything, all this wealth, who can rest the whole day, who can have pleasure if he wanted to, can be so disciplined. It’s just incredible, fantastic, I can’t find the words,” Azkals coach Hans Michael Weiss said.

“There are many characters in this team who use their head in a very good way and they will find this visit fantastic for sure, they will find it very motivating also.”

Aside from shooting, Al Maktoum, who also owns the Al-Shabab Al Arabi Football Club discussed football with the Azkals players.

Midfielder Jason de Jong said: “We are really thankful for this opportunity and it has been a great experience. His dedication and passion for sport is clear to see and we can learn a lot from him.”

The Azkals are set to go up against Qantas Australia Under-23 team in their third friendly match to cap their 10-day Middle East tour.

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