In news that will send shockwaves through Filipino football fans, Philippine National Men’s Football Team (Azkals) center-back Juani Guirado has announced his retirement from international play, with tomorrow’s match against North Korea at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila to serve as his swansong.
Guirado announced the surprise news in the pre-match press conference at the Century Park Hotel.
It has been a stellar run for Guirado with the Azkals ever since his first official cap on February 29, 2012 at Rizal Memorial against Malaysia. That match ended in a 1-1 draw, with striker Denis Wolf scoring for the Azkals.
In Guirado’s four years serving the national team, he has amassed more than 30 caps and was part of the squads that finished third place at the 2012 Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup, had a first runner’s up medal in the same competition two years later, and reached the semi-finals of the 2014 ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup.
In a statement Guirado read to the press, he cited that his body is no longer able to keep up with the demands of playing for both club and country. “We have a busy schedule with our clubs and here in Azkals. Too much travel, playing and games. I just want to have more focus with (Ceres-La Salle FC) and my family if it’s possible,” the 36-year-old defender/midfielder announced.
“Thanks to everybody to make this the most beautiful experience of my life like a person, like a football player. My wife Andrea for being there every moment, my parents and brothers, my cousins, my cousin Rafa (Garcia) and our Filipino family for bringing me here and taking me for every moment, Dan Palami for giving me the opportunity and the coaches Michael Weiss and Thomas Dooley here present for believing in me, all the staff and the Azkals players in this more than four years for being like my family. And of course to fans and media who always give us a smile, win or lose.”
The news comes as a big blow for the Azkals since fellow defenders Rob Gier and Jerry Lucena had also announced their retirements recently.
Guiado, however, played down the lasting effects of the occurrence in saying, “I really don’t what exactly what the coaches are thinking but we have Amani (Aguinaldo), a few more defenders (like) Daisuke (Sato), still Simone (Rota) is there. We have a lot of good defenders who can play there in the squad so I’m very calm about that.”
For Guirado, his best moment arrived in the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup third-place playoff match against Palestine in Nepal, where he scored a crucial goal to help the Philippines clinch a podium finish. “That was an amazing moment for me. I didn’t expect to score. I am the kind of player who works hard, not minding not scoring too much goals. I was very happy at this moment,” the Filipino-Spaniard said.
In the end, Guirado believes that the future of Philippine football is bright. “I think it’s growing. It’s different. We have a good squad. Now we have the best in our moment. The football in general in the Philippines changed a little bit because in the (UFL) we have more equality players, more quality people who work for us, who teach. I think we have a good future in football,” he shared with optimism.
One of the signs that Philippine football is improving is its clubs doing well in the 2016 AFC Cup. Ceres and Kaya FC have put in some marvellous displays in their past fixtures, and Guirado wants both clubs to push forward. “I think already we showed our potential in Asia,” he said about the AFC Cup showings. “We show we can have everything. Of course we have to be humble and we have to be on the floor and think we still have to work hard.”
Playing for Ceres will be Guirado’s main priority after tomorrow’s match. Ceres are currently in the midst of their 2016 UFL Cup and 2016 AFC Cup campaigns, and keeping fresh for his club is imperative for Guirado.
At the end of the day, Guirado can hold his head high with how he jas served Philippine football in general. No doubt all Filipino fans should applaud and appreciate him for that.
With tomorrow’s match crucial qualification-wise for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, expect Guirado to set sentiment aside and go all out for the Philippines.