It always feels like it’s an end of an era whenever a player retires from international football. Nobody gets into any national team squad by accident as every slot if deemed precious by the coaching staff. When a player retires, they leave behind a squad they’ve served for many years. For the Philippine National Men’s Football Team (Azkals), the latest retiree center-back Juani Guirado.
Guirado shocked Filipino football fans when he announced his international retirement at the pre-match press conference of the North Korea game held last Monday (March 28, 2016) at the Century Park Hotel in Manila. The next day, Tuesday (March 29, 2016), was set to be the last time he was to don the Azkals shirt.
Eventually, the game proved to be a fantastic ending for Guirado as the Philippines beat North Korea, 3-2, in an unforgettable encounter. The fixture was the final match played in the 2018 FIFA World Cup/2019 AFC Asian Cup second joint qualification round and the result guaranteed the Philippines passage to the next qualifying stage of the said continental competition. Guirado wore the captain’s armband that evening and save for a yellow card, had an impeccable game.
“Still, I am shocked. A few years ago I dreamed this kind of game for my career with national team and now this dream is true. We finished winning a tough game. We finished giving everything. I finished also representing the country again with all my teammates. Thank you for everything. Thank you to (media), all the fans, all my friends, all my family, and all the staff and players who helped me all the time. I wish all the best for the future of Philippine football”, Guirado said after the match.
Even if the result was the best possible outcome for the Philippines, Guirado admitted he and his teammates could have defended against North Korea’s goals better than they did. “We didn’t play the best game in defense. We have to recognize always the mistake, but fortunately for today we played good in offense.”
With the Azkals, 1-2, down and only ten minutes left in the match, a few fans could be forgiven if they felt the home side was bound to suffer a second straight loss. Guirado, though, never lost faith in his team. “I think since we started the game, we played better than them. We showed we can win every time”, Guirado professed. He also felt that the result added credibility for Philippine football’s future. “We are showing year by year, working more and more, and growing. Like today we showed we can win against big teams in Asia.”
At the end of the current round, the Philippines finished at 3rd place in the group with 10 points behind Uzbekistan and North Korea. Taking into account that the group was arguably the toughest compared to the others and that the travel was excruciating, the Azkals can deem their campaign to be a success. For Guirado, the whole endeavor was fruitful for the Azkals. “Third place is a place we wanted before the start (of the round). Bahrain is a very good team and North Korea (above) us so I think amazing, amazing tournament.”
Before Guirado, fellow defenders Rob Gier and Jerry Lucena also announced their retirement from the squad. Nevertheless, Guirado felt that their retirement could be a blessing in disguise with young players ready to step up. “We have amazing young players. Only we have to get the best from them, for sure the coaches can do this.” One of the things, though, that Guirado will miss now that he’s retired internationally are his teammates from the Azkals. “They are for me like brothers. Promise, family. We stayed together long time, long concentration so all of them like brothers.”
In terms of what happens next, Guirado shall now have to focus on his club Ceres-La Salle as they are in the midst of their season. Ceres are currently participating in the 2016 UFL Cup and 2016 AFC Cup. Nevertheless, he left the room open for a possible coaching job. “You never know. It’s very difficult. I have to learn how to be coach and you never know in the future what’s happening.” While he may retire from the Azkals, he left a lot of good memories for their fans. And for that, he has left a huge mark in Philippine football.