It seems only yesterday that Amani Aguinaldo donned the Azkals jersey for the first time against Indonesia on August 14, 2013.
As a defender, he has played with and learned from the likes of Juani Guirado, Rob Gier, and Simone Rota as he grew in stature in the senior team. This time, though, it is the 24-year-old’s duty to take up a mentor role as part of the Philippines’ lineup for the 2019 Southeast Asian Games.
In the Philippines U-22 National Men’s Football Team’s first match of the tournament against Cambodia, Aguinaldo had to manage what was a five-man defense at times, with the likes of Edison Suerti, Justin Baas, Jarvey Gayoso, and Mar Diano looking to him for guidance and instruction throughout the contest.
“Alright, to be honest, I’ve been waiting for this for maybe six years already. I’m really glad I’m with the team now,” said the former Global stalwart.
“I have the opportunity to play in the SEA Games with an incredible group of players. I’m just really happy to be here right now.”
The result was a 1-1 stalemate thanks to a dramatic late equalizer from substitute midfielder Dennis Chung, Monday night at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila. And now, 2014 AFC Challenge Cup silver medalist can say that he and his backline had a decent outing to kickstart their campaign on home soil.
“It’s an honor.
“It’s always an honor to play for the national team. I’m one of the over-aged players who was chosen to lead the team. I have to do my job and I want to do my job,” he said.
Down 0-1 at the break, Aguinaldo and the rest of the team could have easily folded to their Cambodian counterparts and made up excuses for such a loss. Still, they managed to earn a result, which was by all accounts a fitting reward for their performance in the second half.
“Considering that we only had a few days together as a complete team with Stephan Schrock, me, and some other players who came from the senior team, I think everyone did really, really well. We exceeded, I think, the expectations of our coaches. We could have won the game but we’ll try next time,” said the 6-foot-0 defender.
While it was not a win, the outcome was still an encouraging start for the national team in its quest to make Filipino sports fans proud. With everything said and done, Aguinaldo fully understands the mission at hand.
“I’m excited to play again, you know? We have to recover. I hope everyone has no injuries or something. I hope that everyone’s fully fit because we have a few more games and I hope we get to the finals.”