At a tender age of 20, Amani Aguinaldo has become one of the reliable defensive figures in Thomas Dooley’s squad. The defender retained his place in the lineup set to face Uzbekistan on Tuesday but is still waiting for his chance to feature on the pitch in the second round of qualifying round. He may have earned the opportunity he is craving for after offering a wonderful display in the Azkals’ most recent win just two days ago.
In the past two games the Philippines played, veterans Rob Gier, Juani Guirado, and a fellow young stalwart named Luke Woodland got the nod before the one-time FEU Tamaraw. At that time though, back in June this year, Aguinaldo was nursing a mild injury and was not fully fit for action. Fast forward to September 3 when the promising center back demonstrated his ability in the heart of the defense to secure a pleasing 2-0 victory over Maldives. He nearly began the match on the bench had it not been for Dooley’s last-minute decision to put him in place of Guirado. Rewarded with a rare start, Aguinaldo did not disappoint as he aided the team in keeping a clean sheet against the South Asians.
The Global FC defender may not have been entrusted to play the previous games in qualifying but he surely understands the challenge everyone in the roster faces. “The competition for the center back position is really tough so I have to do my best, try to give everything I have and try to earn the coach’s respect,” he modestly remarked after the training session ahead of the Maldives clash.
A factor which contributes to the difficulty of landing a place in the lineup is the 3-5-2 formation Dooley has been employing since June. Normally, three center backs operate the backline but Dooley seemed to prefer a lone natural center back to be joined by persons who could operate as wing-backs to provide cover for the actual ones. It means that Aguinaldo is also in competition with, the likes of Daisuke Sato, Simone Rota and Jerry Lucena apart from the three center backs aforementioned. It may be to his disadvantage but Aguinaldo is committed enough to prove his worth in the current set-up that has yielded success so far for the team ranked 125th in the World. “We’ll just have to adapt and to see who’s the fittest player for the position,” he suggested.
For this month’s Qualifiers match, Gier and Rota have been sidelined by injuries, providing Aguinaldo a better chance of playing. Personally, he laments the loss of two key characters in the team but remains adamant that the Azkals roster still has the country’s brightest players capable of delivering results. In relation to that statement, Aguinaldo is pleased to see more players from the local footballing level rise into the senior team pool. Among those who earned playing time is Aguinaldo’s long-time teammate Paolo Bugas. “We can prove that Philippine football is truly developing from the grassroots level,” told the man who has plenty of international football in store for him. –LGT