An epic in itself. That was how flying the Azkals to Pyongyang was.

Jerry Lucena flew in from Billund, Denmark. Stephan Palla flew in from Vienna, Austria. Rob Gier, Neil Etheridge, and goalkeeping coach Pascal Zuberbühler flew in from London, England. They all met up at Frankfurt, Germany, with Stephan Schröck and Roland Müller.

Global FC were in Singapore to play the semifinals of the RHB Singapore Cup. Amani Aguinaldo, Misagh Bahadoran, Paolo Bugas, Patrick Deyto, Daisuke Sato, Dennis Villanueva are all part of Global FC. Both legs of the semifinal were supposed to be played within a couple of days of each other, but the haze that has been plaguing that part of Southeast Asia prevented them from playing, twice. They were able to play one leg and the second was rescheduled to sometime in November. They arrived back in Manila on Saturday morning, the day before the trek to Pyongyang.

Iain Ramsey had flown in from Iran the week before; Luke Woodland, from Manchester the day after. Paul Mulders had also arrived back from the Netherlands. The Philippines-based Azkals had been training for about a week. Kenny Daniels, OJ Porteria, Manny Ott, Patrick Reichelt, Martin Steuble, Phil Younghusband, and even Simone Rota had been training at Emperador Stadium. In the absence of goalkeepers, assistant coach Sebastian Stache had been trying to pinch hit. Coach Thomas Dooley would also scrimmage with the shorthanded players. Kevin Ingreso arrived in Manila from Germany on Saturday afternoon.

Everyone flying from Manila would have a stopover in Bangkok before arriving in Beijing, China. The European contingent would meet them there. From Beijing, the Azkals finally flew to Pyongyang, Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea. They arrived on Monday afternoon.

By all accounts, Pyongyang has been friendlier than expected. The boys have been taking selfies and posting on their social media.

The Azkals first training in Pyongyang was the first time they were on a pitch together as a team since the loss to Uzbekistan last month. And it was only days before match day. Today.

Are they ready? We cannot answer that. Only two members of the media were able to fly out with the team. We can’t even see the match live. We do not know.

This is the most unsure we have been about the Azkals in a long time. After a long time, we have to “watch” the game on social media — that is if there will be internet at the stadium. There will be a handful of Filipinos in the crowd this afternoon, perhaps the fewest the Azkals have played in front of. Did we mention that the stadium seats 50,000? We are, in every sense of the word, underdogs in this battle.

Uncertainty leaves a bad taste in the mouth, but that’s what it feels like. Uncertain because we cannot see what’s happening, because we cannot hear the roar of the crowd.

Perhaps today all we really can do is hope and pray and send all of the good vibes for the Azkals Pyongyang-ward.

We are certain they will need it and we are 100% certain that they will fight.



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