MANILA – The opening ceremony for the 31st Southeast Asian Games is due on Thursday but two Philippine teams -- football and beach handball -- plunge into competition in separate venues on Friday.
The men’s beach handball squad faces Thailand at 4 p.m. on Friday at the Tuan Chau Resort Ha Long in Quang Ninh, while the football team battles Timor Leste in Group A action set for 4 p.m. at the 20,000-seating Viet Tri Stadium in Phu Tho -- Vietnam is one hour behind Philippine standard time.
Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) President Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino wished the beach handball and men’s football athletes good luck as they start the country’s bid to defend its overall title in the SEA Games that were originally scheduled last November but were postponed because of the pandemic.
“To our ‘Fighting Team Philippines,’ I wish you good luck,” said Tolentino, who’ll fly to Hanoi on Wednesday, a day before the opening ceremony at the 40,000-seat My Dinh Stadium, the same venue where Vietnam opened its initial hosting of the biennial games in 2003.
Tolentino, however, reminded the 641-strong Team Philippines to stay safe from Covid-19. Three athletes tested positive and according to Tolentino, two of them were cleared after a second test while the third has yet to yield a negative result. Their identities and sports were not disclosed.
Formalities for the kickboxing events will also start with the medical examinations, weigh-in and technical meetings on Friday with the competitions set for Sunday at the Bac Ninh stadium, some 100 kilometers away from the main hub Hanoi.
Philippine Handball Federation coach and training director Joanna Franquelli said the target is to improve on the bronze medal finish at the 2019 SEA Games in Subic.
“We have a chance for another podium finish but everything is unpredictable,” Franquelli said on Thursday. “I’m just hoping we execute our game plan against anybody.”
After Thailand, the Philippines faces Vietnam on Saturday at 5 p.m. and Singapore on Sunday at 4 p.m. On May 9, the Philippines will again meet Thailand also at 4 p.m., then Vietnam the following day at 5 p.m. and Singapore on the last day at 4 p.m.
The 10-member team is composed of Jamael Pangandaman, Josef Maximillan Valdez, Mark Vincent Dubouzet, Andrew Michael Harris, Rey Joshua Tabuzo, Manuel Lasangue Jr., Dhane Miguelle Varela, Van Jacob Baccay, John Michael Pasco and Daryoush Zandi.
They are also coached by Aurora Adriano, Luzviminda Pacubas and Tomas Luis Telan. The beach handball final is set for May 11.
The Azkals under-23 team of head coach Norman Fegidero are up for a stiff challenge from defending champion Vietnam on Sunday at 8 p.m., followed by Myanmar on Tuesday at 4 p.m. They play Indonesia on May 13 at 4 p.m. to conclude the group stage.
Football competitions in the SEA Games are restricted to under-23 but each country could field two athletes from its senior's squad.
Stephan Schrock, 35, and Joven Bedic Hervas, 31, lead the team composed of Enrique Fernandez, Enrico Alañanon, Scott Philip Galang, Francis Palogan, Jaime Domingo, Christian Mangaron, Sandro Miguel Sison, Geri Veliganio, Jacob Reyes, Matt Ocampo, Miguel Antonio Pangcog, Quincy Boltron, Jayvee Solon, Yrick Rapisura, Jermi Navarro, Dennis Salazar, Oliver Saludares, and Oskari Kekkonen.
The Philippines is hoping to reach the semifinals for the first time since 1991. (PR)