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Aguinaldo, Deyto emerge as pillars of grassroots football

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From the adrenaline-pumping competitive nature of the UAAP to a pressure-packed journey that may end up in an unlikely place in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Amani Aguinaldo and Patrick Deyto will attempt to shine in the biggest stage of their budding football careers to date.

Four years ago, the Azkals decided to participate anew in the continental FIFA World Cup Qualifiers after opting not to for the 2006 and 2010 editions. Their return to the AFC platform towards the biggest football tournament in the world was short-lived yet inspiring. After disposing Sri Lanka in two legs, the Azkals were booted out by Kuwait in the second round. The setback, however, did not send Philippine football back to its pre-2010 status; rather, it led to more milestones for the country’s football flag-bearers. Within five years, the men’s national football team made the AFF Suzuki Cup semifinals in three straight occasions while also excelling in the last two editions of the AFC Challenge Cup. In the midst of the steady upsurge of Philippine football, young homegrown talents Aguinaldo and Deyto traversed proportional heights in their own careers that directed them to where they are now.

When the Azkals faced Sri Lanka to start their quest for a place in the World Cup in 2011, Aguinaldo was still playing high school football for the Far Eastern University-FERN Baby Tamaraws. Two years later, he played his rookie year for the FEU Tamaraws before transferring to the University of the Philippines. Many anticipated his appearance for UP but it was not meant to be. The then 18-year old Davao native’s stark progress on the field resulted in an Azkals’ debut as a substitute in the 2-0 loss at Indonesia while in the middle of serving a mandatory residency year in UP. Since then, Aguinaldo veered away from collegiate football. Instead, he began challenging for a place in the heart of the Azkals’ central defense usually occupied by his idols Rob Gier and Juani Guirado. “I feel really lucky to be a part of the team of course and I’m proud to represent the country,” the young center back stated.

Almost a year after Aguinaldo made his debut for the national team, Deyto earned his first cap for the Azkals. In doing so, he aided the Azkals in holding Malaysia to a goalless draw away from home. Before joining the national team, Deyto played college football for De La Salle University, also in the UAAP, where he was a recipient of the Best Goalkeeper Award back in Season 73 just three months before the Azkals faced the Sri Lankans. “Everybody was so proud of that Azkals team because we never reached that round [before],” he recalled. A month after his remarkable debut against Malaysia, the Lasallian made a bigger impression by saving a penalty in the dying minutes of a friendly against the same opponents in Cebu. His accomplishments in representing the country in such a short amount of time was not overlooked by Dooley, who decided to bring him to compete in the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup. From that moment on, the 25-year-old goalkeeper has been a constant member of the Azkals.

Deyto admits that being a member of the national team assembled to compete in the World Cup Qualifiers was just a dream for him four years ago. Now, the Global goalkeeper is happy to be directly involved in helping preserve the rise of football in the country. “[Back in 2011], I was really supporting the team because I wanted the Philippines to be in the World Cup. I know that if that happens, football will grow even bigger. It will open opportunities for others, not just me but also the young people,” he relayed.

True enough, Aguinaldo and Deyto have emerged from collegiate standouts to national team players. Although their road to the national team is nothing new, as a plethora of former Philippine footballers have done in the past, their quick ascent ensures that the grassroots football programs in the country are still viable sources of talent and will continue to be such while football is being reborn in the Philippines.

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