To be given the chance to represent the country is an opportunity athletes dream of, regardless of sport. Not only will the athlete be able to test themselves in a high level of competition, but they get the opportunity to possibly return to the country as a hero after international glory.
Two such athletes were given a chance to join the Philippine National Men’s Football Team (Azkals) training pool for the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup/2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifying matches against Uzbekistan and North Korea. These players were the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons’ Daniel Gadia and Far Eastern University Tamaraws’ Paolo Bugas.
Gadia and Bugas are two of a select group of UAAP Football players who have participated in international competition. Both were part of the 2015 South East Asian Games lineup that included the likes of Paolo Salenga, Jinggoy Valmayor, Patxi Santos, and Ian Clarino. Bugas himself has a senior cap to his name, when he was brought on as a substitute against the Maldives in a friendly last September.
The call-up itself was a pleasant surprise for Gadia, as it has always been his dream to play for the Azkals. He took every lesson Dooley gave him to heart and hoped for more opportunities. “Hindi ko talaga in-expect na makacall up ako. Sa lahat-lahat naman ng [UAAP] maraming magaling diyan especially Paolo Salenga na for me, he deserved to be called up also pero hindi ko talaga alam bakit ako nandun eh. Thankful ako nung lumabas yung email ko na nandun so sabi ko thankful ako na ano”, he said.
Training with the Azkals and with a UAAP team has its similarities and differences. Gadia felt that he needed to work on his technique as Azkals sessions are more technical, while UAAP teams focus more on pressing and hard work. Even his natural position was changed, “Medyo nilagay ako sa gilid ni coach Thomas [Dooley] so kahit saan naman. If ever nilagay ako sa midfield o ano, work hard lang.”
While Gadia participated in the Azkals’ training sessions, Bugas had to stay away. Bugas explained, “Big opportunity ulit kasi yun nga to be part of the national team training pool kaso conflict sa training schedule namin sa FEU. At the same time, finals na ulit namin sa school which is kukuha na ng exam para matapos yung semester. Mahirap mag-commit ngayon sa Azkals kasi parang nasa posisyon kami na kailangan namin bumawi sa standings namin sa UAAP so hindi ko basta-basta maiwan yung team na ganun-ganun lang.” He then admitted that he hasn’t spoken to the Azkals’ management out of shyness. “Siyempre bago pa lang ako sa Azkals at mahirap mag-demand about sa training kaya wala muna.”
Similar to Gadia, Bugas was played wide in his cameo against the Maldives. He normally plays as a central-midfielder for FEU, but he had no qualms being played at the different part of the pitch. “Hindi naman kasi sa training ginagawa naman namin yun. Yun ‘yung nilalaro kapag natatraining game kami. And ‘yung time nung pinalaro ako, ineexpect ko na either right or left [wing] so nakapagfocus naman ako sa posisyon na binigay ni coach Dooley.”
Even if Bugas failed to participate in the latest training sessions, he still had fond memories of the last time he was selected to join. “Siguro ‘yung level ng coaching kasi si coach Dooley more veteran siya. I mean grabe ‘yung experience niya tsaka makasama mo ‘yung mga high-level players na naglalaro sa ibang bansa, malaking bagay yun kasi ‘yung exposure mo sa team nandun.”
In lieu of his absence, Bugas believed that there is only one thing he can do in order to earn another call-up. “Siguro kailangan ko i-prove na makuha ulit ‘yung championship ngayon para mapakita sa kanila na naging busy ako sa UAAP and para ipakita sa kanila na I deserve a slot sa Azkals.”
Both players hope that their latest call-up would just be the first of many. “Maybe soon more blessings kay God para makalaro sa senior team”, Gadia said. Likewise Bugas affirmed, “Yes after season, 100% mag-cocommit ako sa Azkals if bibigyan nila ulit ako ng chance na macall-up sa training pool.”
Even if both players weren’t chosen to make the final lineup for the Uzbekistan match and might not be called up against North Korea, the sight of seeing two UAAP players joining the Azkals is a welcome development. Dooley has shown that he will call players up to play for the Azkals as long as they deserve it.
Here’s hoping Gadia, Bugas and other UAAP players join former DLSU goalkeeper Patrick Deyto’s lead as consistent members of the Azkals.