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Azkals stint a rollercoaster ride for Phil Younghusband

‘I’d like to say I got over 50 goals and 100 caps but to be honest I’m not thinking about that right now.’

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Imagine this: Phil Younghusband just scored the goal which sent the Philippines through to the 2018 World Cup. The Azkals captain scored the free kick after being fouled while running into the opposing team’s penalty area. Imagine that moment. At the final whistle, the whole Philippines is celebrating an achievement which was thought never to be possible. Fans in the stadium are rushing to be able to get a selfie with him. First thing he does after celebrating with his teammates is to look for his siblings, one of which James, shared the pitch with him while donning the national colors and playing in the UFL for the Loyola Meralco Sparks.

This moment may not occur anytime soon with the Philippines grouped against strong countries like Uzbekistan and North Korea, then again there’s nothing wrong in hoping for and visualizing that moment isn’t it?

Not that the man cares about personal glory that much. The Azkals striker turned midfielder has his sights set on victories for the team. Perhaps it was being made skipper which made him this way or the change of his position on the pitch which has developed this mindset. Regardless, it is great that arguably the most talented player of the Philippines has this selflessness in him. The game against Uzbekistan will be his 74th cap for the Philippines and he’s just eight goals shy of fifty for his country but he values team glory more now. “Honestly I would like to reach 50 goals but my priority is to see the team win. You know if I don’t score but the team qualifies for the Asian Cup, I’ll be over the moon. That’s the priority for me but you know when I look back at my career I’d like to say I got over 50 goals and 100 caps but to be honest I’m not thinking about that right now. I’m thinking about let’s get to the Asian Cup and getting as far as possible for the World Cup qualifiers” Younghusband said.

In Football, it is common for players who have aged to drop lower in terms of in-game position. We have seen it so many times with players like Steven Gerrard who played behind the striker at his peak eventually had a quarterback role in his later years. The same transformation is being seen with Younghusband.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Azkals stint a rollercoaster ride for Phil Younghusband

While said to be a central midfielder when he was at Chelsea, Azkals fans have seen him more as a striker. Not that the man has any qualms about his current role as a midfielder for the Azkals with longevity his aim. “As you get older you can’t cover the field as much you know. You can’t get up and down you know. When you see the natural progression of players, Dwight Yorke he was a striker then he got moved to defensive midfield, a lot of players move into positions where they can use their experience to their advantage to prolong their careers. I’d like to play as long as possible so hopefully that’s the case.”

Being played as a striker during the peak of his career with the Azkals and the Meralco Sparks, no one can begrudge Younghusband if his first instinct is to shoot first and ask questions later. He admitted that was in his head during the last World Cup qualifier against Yemen when the Azkals were 2-0 up and he used the free kick to score rather than to use a set-piece play used in training. Now however, he has to take a backseat and act as a playmaker compared to the striker he once was for the Azkals. “Obviously I like to be involved and work hard to score the goals but when you’ve got players that could create something out of nothing, you know I enjoy watching it as much as doing it. So it gives you confidence knowing you can play a simple ball to someone to one of the players knowing they can create something and produce a moment of brilliance that can win you the game and as I said I want to be part of the team that wins and whether I’m involved in the goal or not, as long as the team in winning then that’s the objective, that’s the goal.”

As the captain of the Azkals not only does Younghusband need to wear the armband and shoulder responsibility for the Philippines, he also has to make sure that the group has a strong team spirit. The Azkals had a bowling session for teambuilding and it turned out quite well for the skipper’s team. “My team won the bowling. I scored one 31 in the first game that got us to the final but I didn’t have such a good second game but overall we won which is the most important thing so it was good.” Even if there is a mixture of old and new faces, Younghusband states that everyone gets along well with each other. “The team spirit is good at the moment.”

The coach of Uzbekistan declared in their team’s press conference that Younghusband is the Azkal to watch out for. Mentioning past games like the post-2010 AFF Suzuki Cup one against Mongolia in Bacolod, Younghusband said that while being watched all the time flatters and makes it harder for him to play, space opens up more and his teammates can contribute more. “It does relief pressure knowing you can give the ball to someone and they can create something”, he adds. He then concluded that it’s not only him the Uzbeks have to watch out for but the ten men playing alongside him as well.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Azkals stint a rollercoaster ride for Phil Younghusband

Younghusband has been playing for the Philippines since his first South East Asian games up this point against a fearsome Uzbekistan. He notes that it has been one extreme to another, from irrelevance to the target of qualifying for the Asian Cup. From having no people watching the Azkals’s games to the target of filling up the Philippine Arena, it’s been a roller coaster ride for the skipper and he sure knows how big a part the FIlipino fans can play in a game.

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Lorenzo's a frustrated author who knows a thing or two about Football and Basketball. Went all green from Ortigas to Taft. Supports Liverpool FC, FC Bayern Munich and the Alaska Aces

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