With five matches invested in the goal for gold and a ticket to Nepal, the chance to fight for a slot on the podium was one step closer but yet so far.
The big challenge was finally met in Nepal, when the team was placed in what was coined the “group of death” left to battle it out with Tajikistan, India and defending AFC Challenge Cup champions, North Korea.
This long road prior to us landing in Nepal was a very difficult task for a developing team looking to make a name for the country in the world’s sport.
Prior to joining the team, I had an idea of the sacrifices and the hard work devoted to the goal — but nothing would prepare me for what I would learn and experience on such a personal journey.
It still inspires me to learn about the many steps the country has taken in the right direction when it comes to football. Hearing stories and meeting people who have been involved in this process for decades really enhances my appreciation for the efforts of individuals and groups who have dedicated their lives to a sport they believe in.
So, reaching the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup tournament is a true testament to not only the current squad, but to everyone who had paved the way for a new generation of hope.
With a strong gratitude for the past, confidence in ourselves and with a hopeful vision for the future, we embarked on a Nepalese journey that would rewrite the history books for Philippines football.
Prior to landing in Nepal, preparations took us through a tour of Dubai and back, playing Olympic contenders Australia and Uzbekistan.
Though we expected the difficulties presented in this Challenge Cup, we were nonetheless in high spirits and our optimism pushed us forward.
Arriving in Nepal felt like landing at our first base camp on our vertical ascent.
Being there days before the competition really gave us an advantage, as it took us time to get acclimated to altitude. Although we knew about the weather report and geographical location in our destination, most were unprepared for the conditions.
The bitter cold that haunted us even in our hotel rooms had to be combated with multiple blankets and electric heat lamps.
The constant power outages and frequent hot water shortages had to be endured with the most humbling acceptance.
The simple accommodations for our first week truly made us appreciate the things in life that aren’t always readily available to others.
It made us more grateful, it made us more hungry and determined to succeed, and most of all it brought us closer together.
The trip felt like a long outdoor adventure with a massive football objective at the top of a tall mountain.
On our quest to reach the golden peak and a spot on the podium, we first had to conquer the group stages and make it to our next base camp: the playoffs.
Having lost to current champions North Korea 2-0, we knew we still had a chance to reach that next step, if only we could gain results against India and Tajikistan.
Our sights were fixed on breaking through the group stages and our focus remained on tackling one team at a time, first beating India 2-0 followed by a jubilant victory over Tajikistan.
By making it past the group stage and into the next round, we not only found ourselves rewriting the history books of Philippine football, but we discovered that we were the only team to ever start from the pre-qualifications, that made it through the qualifying group stages and succeeded to the playoffs — in contention for a medal.
As our summit to the top opened new opportunities for the team and new heights for the country, we were invigorated with a breath of fresh air and new life in the tournament.
Our focal point transitioned to the semifinals to which we were set to face Turkmenistan. Beating them would have meant we were guaranteed a silver finish if not the gold. Losing would have meant we had to battle it out for the bronze.
For everyone, such calculations came secondary to our drive to win.
The goal going into the tournament was to take each game to the fullest, to fight for the recognition, and to play for the pride of the country, so settling for less was not an option.
Fighting for bronze
Unfortunately, performance showed us a heartbreaking defeat in the last minutes of the Turkmenistan match and we found ourselves with a slightly shorter mountain to climb.
What was a gorgeous gold summit with a silver lining in sight quickly turned into a grueling fight to reach a bronze peak.
Nonetheless, with everything to fight for, we exchanged blows with Palestine for ninety minutes. When the final whistle blew we found ourselves with a successful third place finish beating Palestine 4-3.
We had reached the pinnacle in our journey and finally reached the highest point in our expedition.
Standing at the top of our bronze mountain, I couldn’t help but revisit the road it took to get there.
Our success in the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup was much like the goal of climbing Everest as its accomplishments are attributed to the collective contribution and influences of many people, numerous events, various good fortunes, and countless misfortunes.
Dared to dream
Although we ended short of our original goal, we made it farther than most expected. This journey could not have been possible if it weren’t for all the players, staff, administration that came before us who started the voyage decades ago.
Our existence would not be fully appreciated without the recognition of loyal supporters who carried the weight from the very beginning.
Our experience would not be complete without those who opposed the team, only to reinforce it by uniting our will to succeed.
Most of all, none of this would have been possible if it weren’t for those who dared to dream the possibilities.
We are only the lucky few who had the chance to represent the country at this moment in time.
We remain a small piece of the continuing puzzle that is deeply routed in a developing country and I will forever be grateful for such an opportunity driven by the hope, dreams and pride of a growing football nation.
This experience is an example of an underdog’s journey that will forever remind us of the values consistent with small successes and the incredible path that takes us there.
From the base of a tall mountain of oppositions and challenges, I am happy to experience a continual upward climb, so that one day, we may all find ourselves in more established football prominence, never to forget where we started. – Rappler.com
Lexton Moy is a member of the Azkals, the men’s Philippine football team. Please visit SoccerPirrs.com/blog for more from Lexton Moy. Follow him on Twitter @LextonMoy.