Stephan Schrock has always been a fighter for the Philippine Men’s National Football Team.
Whether he played as a midfielder, defender, or even a forward, Filipino football fans have always appreciated the Filipino-German player because of his work-rate, as well his creativity on the ball.
When the Azkals walked out of the tunnel and onto the pitch against South Korea to kickstart their 2019 AFC Asian Cup campaign at the Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai, it seemed only natural that the 32-year-old led the team as captain – particularly with the likes of Phil Younghusband on the bench and Neil Etheridge out of the lineup.
It was an incredible moment for the midfielder. For roughly two years, Schrock wasn’t selected for national team duty because his relationship with former Azkals mentor Thomas Dooley broke down after the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup. Now he led the squad in their biggest game yet.
“For me, it’s an absolute crazy story. Four months ago or five months ago, under the old coach (Thomas Dooley), I wasn’t even selected to represent the country under the best twenty-three players. Stepping on the pitch today as first captain representing one-hundred, twenty million people is just amazing,” said Schrock, now 32 years of age.
“For the first time in a long time, I got goosebumps when I stepped on the pitch. And that’s always a good sign.”
With the armband on, the Ceres-Negros stalwart produced another one of his combative displays for the Philippines against South Korea. And while he and the rest of the Azkals lost, they impressed observers with how they held the South Koreans defensively and also frightened them in their own box.
“I think in an open play – of course we are the defending team and Korea had most of the possession – but in an open play we looked more dangerous. With (Javier) Patino, (Patrick) Reichelt, and Manny Ott on the run, we could have scored. And imagine the two chances we had, one of them we had to convert – and that would be the biggest upset in the last 100 years, I guess,” explained the former SpVgg Greuther Fürth player.
“It wasn’t meant to be yet so we’re looking forward to have the three points against China.”
Supporters and former teammates congratulated Schrock for his and the team’s fine start to the tournament. And the player was grateful for the fans who watched inside the venue, because their presence inspired the team to run the extra mile. But one message stood out.
“My mom texted me afterwards. She’s still not so football-educated as she should be. She said ‘You played well but next time, please avoid yellow cards’.
“That’s what her text is saying. I owe my mom everything. I’m very happy I can give her something back by representing the country. She’s very happy and that makes me happy,” shared the Filipino-German player.
With the game over, the Philippines’ first-ever Asian Cup skipper is shifting his focus to the team’s next two games in Group C, against China and Kyrgyzstan. If the Azkals hope to advance to the next round, they must get points in their next assignments.
“We don’t have to be afraid of no one. They’re all coming with two feet and two arms only, same as us. So, why should we be scared? We do this every week. We practice all our lives to be in this stage. Today we showed that we deserved to be here.”
Definitely, Schrock has come full circle.