Stephan Shrock will be challenged for the ball by Elias Mesquita from Timor-Leste during the Southeast Asian Games 2019 in Biñan's football stadium on Wednesday. PHOTO BY EARVIN PERIAS
When Stephan Schrock left the Biñan football stadium in the Philippines' last game at the Southeast Asian Games on December 3, the Azkals skipper was already playing almost 60 games for clubs and countries, most in his career.
It's remarkable to play so many games, play through injuries, and maintain a competitive mindset in 12 months. But the 33-year-old Schrock was not just a marginal figure in the games in which he played. He had an impact on all games that started with the AFC Asian Cup in January until the beginning of December, when he led the Young Azkals to fight the SEA Games.
In a year in which the national team program was restarted under Scott Cooper after an initial AFC Asia Cup campaign, it was the Azkals captain who helped make the transition almost seamless. He was the voice and leader and took over the reins of an icon from Phil Younghusband, who retired in early November. And although progress has been made, the results for the Azkals, who drew China at home but also lost twice in Syria in World Cup qualifying after a first Asian Cup season in which all three games were played at the beginning of the year, were mixed Dubai and Abu Dhabi lost.
That is why Schrock's constancy, longevity and his tireless efforts to keep his Ceres-Negros and Azkals clubs in competition with the best on the continent should be the most important highlight of the past year.
"I am grateful that I was able to demonstrate my hard work and my skills at the highest level of the continent," said Schrock, who was also recognized as one of the best 11 players in Southeast Asia last November. "I am only happy to raise the flag. But I will always exchange every single honor just to win a trophy for the country."
The country's football officials remain confident that the impact of Schrock & Co.'s strong international accomplishments will also result in more support for the national league, which will welcome a new sponsor to Qatar Airways next year.
"I think it has generally been a good year for Filipino football," said Nonong Araneta, president of the Filipino Football Association, who has worked personally to acquire the Qatar Airways Agreement for the Filipino Football League. "We have taken a few steps forward, but stakeholder expectations will always be high and we have to work harder to meet these expectations in the coming years."
The SEA Games were a showcase for the best young talents in the country. Together with the women's national team, the Young Azkals hosted a magical night in November, in which both teams defeated Malaysia while playing at Biñan and Rizal Memorial Stadium. Their campaign may have ended in a heartache: the Young Azkals dropped out due to the goal difference, and the Malditas bowed in the battle for the bronze after being one goal ahead of Myanmar. However, those responsible were confident that this was the country's best performance in Ukraine every two years.
"We didn't go through because of the goal difference, but I think everyone saw how different this team is and how well prepared they are," said Dan Palami, Azkals manager. "This is the team's strongest performance I've ever seen at the SEA Games in the Philippines."
The struggle for relevance to Filipino football continues.
But with rejuvenated leaders and an overwhelming captain at the head of the indictment, sport could finally unfold its potential in the country in the years to come.
Don't miss the latest news and information.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to access The Philippine Daily Inquirer and others over 70 titles. Share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download it at 4:00 a.m. and share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.