MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines is etching its name in the world of football anew – but this time, not in the Fifa World Cup qualifiers or the AFF Suzuki Cup.
Team Philippines crashed into the second group stage, along with 23 other winning teams, in the 2011 Homeless World Cup Wednesday as the Filipinos bundled out several opponents and blazed hot against Croatia in the eight-day street football meet at Champs de Mars in Paris, France.
The Filipinos held on to a halftime edge to crush Croatia, 8-5, to kick off another round of the group stages Wednesday under shadow of the breathtaking Eiffel Tower shading off the event Arena.
The 48 participating countries were divided into two sections after the first stage, with the top three in each group progressing to section one.
Only those who will advance further will get a chance to nab the Homeless World Cup title (1st to 8th position), while the rest will contest the other cups like Dignitary Cp (9th to 16th), City Cup (17th-24th), Host Cup (25th to 32nd), Community Cup (33rd to 40th) and INSP Networking Trophy (41st to 48th).
Led by Negrense skipper Janrick Soriano and Manileno co-captain Jeffrey Guelas, the Philippines earlier conquered taller opponents like Ghana, United States and Switzerland and earned second spot in Group H behind football powerhouse Netherlands after three days of non-stop football action.
With eight kids handpicked from all over the country, the Filipinos edged the Ghanians 3-2, and the Americans, 4-3, then towered over the Swiss, 8-2.
The Philippines, coached by former national team member Rudy Del Rosario, though fell into the hands of a heftier Netherlands, 2-5, but had already secured its ticket to the next round.
Jeffrey De Castro from Cainta, John “Potot” Celiz, the diminutive striker from Barotac Nuevo in Iloilo, Ricardo Padilla from Pangasinan, Aljhonn Loui Matulac from Estancia in Iloilo, Bert Anthony Sienes who learned to play football in Boystown Manila, completed the team which trooped to the City of Light last Friday buoyed only by donations and sponsorships they garnered in the past months.
The team, each of whom had to battle through poverty and other problems, also met with national team manager Dan Palami, who was coincidentally conducting business in Europe.
“Tonight, God had a funny way of reminding me to be thankful of the blessings he has given me. I promised to take the Homeless World Cup team to dinner in a restaurant here in Paris, so dressed smartly in their signature shirts and jackets we went to the place they had all been wanting to go to…. KFC. Next stop… Starbucks,” posted Palami in his Facebook account.
The Homeless World Cup, wherein the Philippines ranked 25 out of 55 countries last year, is an annual tournament for poor football players aiming to change lives through every kick and every goal.