One-on-one: Philippines' head coach says it's time for some new SEA Games history

Often described as the sleeping giant of Southeast Asian football, we’re about to get a taste of just how far the Philippines have stirred as they face two huge tournaments over the next month.

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Whilst the immediate challenge is the ongoing AFC Under-23 qualifiers, the main event for the Azkals – as it is for most in the region – is at a tournament that holds a special place in the hearts of football fans across the archipelago, the SEA Games.

Until a moderate run of success this decade in the AFF Suzuki Cup, a lone semi-final appearance in the 1991 SEA Games was regarded as the high-water mark for football in the country and that team is still considered one of the most successful the nation has produced.

It’s not just enough to be in the semi-finals but also to get a medal and that’s our target.

One player to have emerged from that squad is now the current coach of both the under-23 and SEA Games teams.

Given that he’s also the PFF’s technical director, Marlon Maro is a man who holds incredible sway over both the current and future directions of Filipino football.

FourFourTwo caught up with Maro for an exclusive chat.

FFT: Many people in the Philippines still fondly remember the 1991 team that made the semi-finals of the SEA Games – what was that whole experience like as a young player?

MARLON MARO: We hosted that competition in 1991 so the expectation was very high and the plan was to be in the semi-finals, but that was perhaps also a mistake that we made in some way.

The plan and the objective was to make the semi-finals, but no one mentioned about a medal so the moment we made the semis the celebrations started and we forgot about the actual semi-finals. So now that I’m coach I told this squad it’s not just enough to be in the semi-finals but also to get a medal and that’s our target.

The 1991 team. Maro is No.15. Pic: diplobugs

FFT: Did the country really embrace the team after you made it to the last four?

MM: Oh, it was like a fiesta! You remember the movie, Escape to Victory? It was like that where you came from prison and you’re playing the best players – that was the picture!

After we defeated the defending champions Malaysia, 1-0, to reach the semi-finals, everybody invaded the pitch at the Rizal Memorial.

It was fully packed, everybody was waiting outside in the streets and celebrating all day long and the next morning in the newspaper it said the Jeepney-riding players beat the Mercedes-owning players – that was the headline!

Maro expects his team to perform. Pic:

It’s a good story and it’s worth remembering, but now we need to write another story.

What experiences can you pass from that time to this current group of players?

MM: I spoke recently with the current squad and told them that the last time we were in the semi-finals of the SEA Games none of you were born – that was 26 years ago.

I told them this is your time, to stop this drought and stay away from this wilderness and give our country glory. Our target is to make the semi-finals and when we’re there we can discuss what medal we can get.

[NEXT: Maro's thoughts on their SEA Games 'Group of Death']