Have you ever wanted to play football but can’t find enough people to form two teams of 11? Well don’t fret because there are a lot of ways to play football including five-a-side, which only requires 10 people in a smaller playing field. One of the world’s most celebrated tournaments in this type of football is the Football Fives World Championship (F5WC), which puts together a crop of talented individuals from all over the world to compete with each other.
Thirteen teams marched on to the final round of the F5WC Philippine leg held last Saturday night, March 28, at the Gatorade-Chelsea Blue Pitch in Makati City. With the goal of emerging the night’s big winners who will earn the privilege of going on a trip to Dubai and representing the country against fellow amateur five-a-side football enthusiasts around the world, the teams went all out in bagging the opportunity of a lifetime.
To narrow down the competition, a group stage format was in place in order to strain the competition from 13 to eight. Originally, there were 16 sides listed but three teams were not able to appear and vie for a place to Dubai. Three groups of three teams and a group of four then faced each other to determine the quarterfinalists. Clustered in Group A were Cebu’s Leylam FC A, Luntian United, and South Metro. MCFC, Manila Metros B, and Leylam FC B composed Group B while Group C composed Francois’ Team, Aspire, and Ultimate. Altogether they played nine matches in a single round robin format while Group D had four squads; Alumni United, Baguio United, Manila Tigers, and Samba. Six matches were played in that group to make it 15 overall heading into the quarterfinals.
After 15 gruelling group stage games, eight teams remained in the quest for the right to be the Philippine representative of the 2015 F5WC tournament in the United Arab Emirates. The two representatives of Cebu’s Leylam FC were joined by Luntian United, Aspire, Francois’ Team, MCFC, Manila Tigers, and Samba in the knockout phase of the qualifiers. Leylam A gunned down MCFC 3-2 in an exhilarating encounter while a cagey affair followed next as Aspire’s lone goal propelled them to the semis by silencing Samba, 1-0. Manila Tigers and Leylam B completed the semis cast after trampling opponents Francois’ Team and Luntian United 3-0 and 3-1 respectively.
As the stakes got higher, the players stepped it up a notch in order to claim victory. Leylam B was too much to handle for the Manila Tigers who were smashed 3-1 in the semis. It offered the possibility of an all-Leylam FC affair but the Manila-based Aspire made the finals a battle of Luzon and Visayas by winning over Leylam A through a 2-0 penalty shootout that followed a goalless affair. The final was firmly contested with no team wanting to lose grasp of the match. Virtually the home team in the final, Aspire controlled the early stages of the game. Yet despite their familiarity with the pitch, Aspire spent most of the game keeping Leylam B scoreless. The Cebuanos were relentless on the attack and forced the Aspire players to defend industriously. Their perseverance was rewarded midway in the second half as Michael Pacite tucked the ball into the net and gave his team a 1-0 lead. The players in red were not contented with a narrow lead as they looked for a backbreaking second goal. Although it did not arrive, they withstood Aspire’s late surge to become the 2015 F5WC Philippine representatives.
Leylam FC coach Oliver Colina was delightfully thankful that his team went on to earn the luxury of playing for the Philippines in the global edition of the tournament, to be held in Dubai later this year. “We can gain experience from this. It’s tiring but it’s fun because it’s football,” he added. As for the other participants, they found the tournament nice as well. “The tournament itself has a good set up. Siguro if you look at it at a startup kind of thing it’s pretty okay naman,” stated Manila Tigers’ goalkeeper Joshua Cruz. Even if his team came up short, Aspire FC’s Charlie Sutcliffe thought the whole thing was a good platform for football enthusiasts to partake at. “We never actually played football together before. The team is made because of this competition. We didn’t actually think we’d go so far,” he furthers, “It’s really good. I really enjoyed it the competitive spirit of everyone, the physicality is really good. Every team that we played has been fantastic.”
Moving on, the F5WC organizers are looking to take it to the next level. “No one’s actually been doing amateur-wise for five-a-side and I think this event shows you how passionate people are,” uttered chief organizer Oli Lewis of Football Manila. He also revealed that they are aiming for at least 200 teams to join from more regions in the country and it may come as soon as October of this year. Lewis sees a lot of potential in building a steady avenue for football aficionados to not only display their skills but play their favourite sport with fellow enthusiasts. “It’s not just half-Filipinos and foreigners who can play football, it is actually local talent and it does not have to come from Manila as they [Leylam FC] have shown. We’re just trying to promote the sport as well,” he ended. Perhaps the country’s fastest growing sport, football can become one of the most played in the archipelago with initiatives like this in place.