The Philippines national team – better known as the Azkals to its supporters – is no ordinary football side, as Paul Williams of FourFourTwo discovered…
With an eclectic playing squad boasting members hailing from all corners of the globe, it is appropriate that the Philippines’ coach is a German-born American.
Thanks to the large Filipino diaspora, estimated at more than 10 million by the Commission of Filipinos Overseas in their 2012 report, the Azkals are more like the United Nations.
For their upcoming World Cup Qualifier against Uzbekistan, the 23-man squad contains players born in no less than 13 countries – five in Germany, two in England and Spain and one each from Austria, USA, United Arab Emirates, Australia, Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Only six were born in the Philippines, but two of them left the archipelago at a young age and were raised in Japan and Iran respectively.
Javier Patino, one of two Spanish-born players in the current squad, shares a similar story to much of his national team team-mates.
“My mother had to leave the country very young and come to Spain to work, leaving behind most of her family,” he told FourFourTwo through a translator.
It was another Spanish-born player, defender Juan Luis Guirado, who alerted the Philippines Football Federation to Patino’s eligibility.
“When I started playing in the second division in the Spanish league, I started to speak with other players in the same situation as me,” the 27-year-old Patino said.
“They were already playing there and I felt the need to start the paperwork to play as soon as possible.”
Upon receiving his Filipino passport in January 2013, making him eligible for the Azkals, the striker told local media his mother was very emotional about his decision to play for the national team.
“My mother was very emotional,” Patino told the Philippine Daily Inquirer. “It’s always been her hope that we reconnect with family and relatives who we haven’t seen for a long time.”
Following up on that, Patino told FourFourTwo he was delighted to learn more about his ancestral history.
“I am delighted to represent (the Philippines) and be able to know a little more about my roots,” Patino, who plays in China with Henan Jianye, said.
“Thanks to the internet you can be in touch (with family) more than before and of course I am happy to see my Filipino family every time I go to play with the Azkals.
“Every time I play with the Philippines I see my family and they tell me they are very happy and proud that I represent the country.”
The Azkals’ upcoming international fixtures double as qualifying for both the 2018 World Cup and the 2019 Asian Cup. The team are off to the perfect start, picking up wins against Bahrain and Yemen in their opening two games.
But they know their toughest test will come in the next two matches, against Group H heavyweights Uzbekistan and North Korea.
Immediately, the focus remains solely on Uzbekistan, the team’s next opponent, who are ranked 76th by FIFA, Asia’s sixth highest nation and 49 above the Philippines.
But in front of what Patino hopes is a big and parochial home crowd, these Azkals know anything is possible.
© 2015 FourFourTwo | This article was written by Paul Williams first appeared on FourFourTwo on 2 September 2015.