TAKE it one match at a time.
This is the approach the Serbian coach Goran Milosevic is taking as the National Under-22 squad takes on Cambodia to open Group A action today in the 30th Southeast Asian Games football championships at the newly-renovated Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
Led by Azkals skipper Stephan Schrock, one of two senior players allowed to reinforce the squad, the Pinoy booters face the Cambodians at 8 p.m. after the 4 o’clock match between Malaysia and Myanmar in the same group.
Over at the Binan Stadium in Laguna, the Malditas, as the women’s squad is known, face a tough challenge in powerhouse Myanmar in the 8 p.m. nightcap in Group A after the Group B match featuring Vietnam and defending champion Thailand at 4 o’clock.
“We will take it one match at a time,” said Milosevic, who took over the reins of the National Under-22 squad last August composed of a blend of Fil-foreigners and homegrown talents.
“The first game is always very important and if they follow our instructions and give their best, our boys can win,” added the ex-national team player under the former country of Yugoslavia, speaking through his compatriot and assistant coach Ramadani Rezidrdan-Kiza.
“The quality that these coaches bring (to the team) is making a huge difference. Their dedication has been excellent and has impacted our players,” said Stallion FC coach Ernie Nierras, also a member of the coaching staff. “They based their selection on talent, skill and merit.”
Kiza, who was Milosevic’s teammate in top clubs such as Red Star and Partizan Belgrade, said they also stressed the proper attitude as a key in selecting the players “because we cannot afford ones with big heads.”
Milosevic said he was grateful that midfield maestro Schrock had volunteered to beef up the Under-22 side.
“He (Schrock) commands a lot of respect among our players so we are grateful he was willing to joins us as far back as three months ago,” he said. “He is a like a coach on the pitch and can execute our ideas; he is one of the best players in Asia.”
The Serbian mentors also cited veteran defender Amani Aguinaldo, the team’s other senior reinforcement, who is expected to add spine to the back row.
“Aguinaldo is a veteran and very professional player. He will strengthen our back row,” Kiza pointed out. “He is able to do the little things and was outstanding in the scoreless draw against China.”
Asked how improved his charges were since he handled them more than two months ago, Milosevic replied: “We will see just how much when we play Cambodia on Monday.”
For national women’s coach Marnelli Dimzon, reversing the result the last time they met the Burmese in the AFF women’s football championships last August in Chonburi, Thailand is foremost on her mind.
“We were able to keep pace with Myanmar in the first half but we broke down in the second half because we lacked the stamina,” Dimzon said of her ward’s 0-3 loss to the squad in the battle for third place.
The return of Fil-Ams Sarina Bolden and Eva Madarang, who missed the AFF women’s tourney, is expected to add teeth to the Malditas’ attacks.