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When bronze shines brighter than gold

By BṺM TENORIO JR., The Philippine STAR Published Aug 12, 2022 5:00 am

They bagged a bronze but their joy is like gold.

And the happiness is still written all over the faces of Lucho Agoncillo, Ellai Siao, Anaiah Sotto, John Tejada, Nacho Siao,Marcus Tanjangco, Carlene Dy, Angelo Fernando, Ragnar Canilao and Rocco Canilao — all below 12 years old.

The Under 12 players of Arayat Football Club won third place in the prestigious LaLiga Youth Tournament in Penang, Malaysia. It’s a feat considering the 10-man team (including two girls) only had a month to train. And while in the semis, two players got knocked off with injuries, so that left the team with only eight able bodies to defend and score a medal for themselves, for the country.

The LaLiga Tournament, according to Arayat Football Club team owner Eumir Siao, “is the famous Spanish tournament. This is the first youth-based LaLiga Tournament that was held in Asia.”

“I’m very proud of myself and my team,” Lucho, 11, son of superstar Judy Ann Santos and actor and TV host Ryan Agoncillo, said when this writer asked him how he felt about Arayat Warriors’ win during a victory celebration at Ayala Alabang Function Hall in Muntinlupa City.

“The most unforgettable experience is definitely being up on the podium with my team receiving the medals. I was very happy and very excited knowing that (even if) we were only very few while the other teams had more than 10 players, we were still able to make it to third place,” Lucho added.

Lucho said he was prepared body and soul for a contact sport like football. He got hurt in the recent tournament “but I pushed myself because I know my team needs my help."

“I got hit in the knee by a player, a defender to be specific. When he tried to clear the ball, he hit my knee. And then, like, after two matches I think, I started to feel weak, I started to feel the fatigue then I had to rest; but then I still pushed on. I still played in the battle for third and that’s what makes me really happy the most,” said the seventh grader.

Like the rest of his teammates, Lucho is a warrior on the football field. He and his teammates went up the stage to get their medals from Arayat Football Club team owner Eumir Siao and coach Hamed Hajimedi during the victory party. They shouted their chant on stage, with Muntinlupa City Mayor Ruffy Biazon and Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz on their feet cheering for them. And seconds after that, they ran to the play station of the function hall and dove in a pen filled with thousands of small colorful balls. The warriors were kids again.

Back-of-the-house training

According to coach Hamed, the team is called Arayat Football Team because every player (there are now about 50 players now who belong in the Under 7, Under 9, Under 11, Under 12, and Under 13 age bracket) started training at the back of the house of team owner Eumir on Arayat street in Ayala Alabang.

“Eumir has a small football field at the back of his house where the players train,” said Hamed, who has been training all the players for two years now.

VICTORY PARTY: Arayat Football Club team owner Eumir Siao (second from right), head coach Hamed Hajimedi (third from left), coaches Mehdi Soltani, Michael Asong, and Kenneth Paysolan with Under 12 players Ellai Siao, Anaiah Sotto, John Tejada, Nacho Siao, Marcus Tanjangco, Lucho Agoncillo, Carlene Dy, Angelo Fernando, Ragnar Canilao, and Rocco Canilao. They are joined by Muntinlupa City Mayor Ruffy Biazon (ninth from left).       

“The team’s third-place win is meaningful because we only had a short notice before the tournament. They just registered one month before the tournament so we didn’t prepare 100 percent, we didn’t train properly. We went to the tournament because I really believed in the kids. I believe in the system where I train the kids,” said Hamed, an Iranian who plays football professionally.

I will continue to persevere so I can be proud of myself and be proud of the team. We will do this for the country.

He added: “In the Philippines, you cannot find any academy like Arayat, because I train the kids like adults. I give them adult training. Because in my country, Iran, football is the first sport. That’s why I bring that system here.”

Hamed said there is a future for Filipino football players. “Because Filipino people have athletic bodies, they just need the right direction. They are very fast, they are muscular, they are very smart. They just need proper training.”

Beating six countries

Eumir Siao said the Arayat Warriors had to beat six teams from Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam to win the bronze medal.

“They are warriors,” he said of the players. “(The win) was literally blood, sweat and tears. In one instance we were so tired because we would play four games in one day. So coach Hamed told them: ‘You’re not only fighting for Arayat but for your country.’ And that rejuvenated the kids. The reason why a lot of countries are strong is because… they’re part of their national youth team.”

The Arayat Warriors in a duel with AUFC, the champion KL Malaysia team. The Filipino youth football team won third place at the two-day LaLiga Youth Tournament in Penang, Malaysia.      

Eumir said Hamed was instrumental in the team’s victory. “Coach Hamed transformed the team. His vast international experience translated to how the kids performed. He’s the best coach because he has a holistic approach — emotionally, physically, mentally, all.”

He added: “Given the right program, right strategy, right facility, right mentality, our kids are world class. That’s the reason why I want to enlighten the top brass of Philippine sports, for them to develop the youth program.”

Proud parents

At the victory party, parents of the Under 12 football players were present to bask in the glory

Lucho Agoncillo gets some loving from his parents Ryan and Judy Ann Agoncillo.     

of their children. They were in a frenzy as their sons and daughters went up the stage one by one. It was one proud moment for them.

Judy Ann Santos said, “Ryan and I and other parents cried when the Arayat Warriors made it to third place. We saw how hard the kids worked to play; and how hard they played to win. Every player of the team, all the coaches really gave their best. When they won third, it was a very priceless, proud moment.”

“And going home with a win in their hearts was the highlight of the trip,” Ryan quipped.

“We are very happy for our son Lucho and very proud of him and his team! We were just happy to watch him and his friends playing the game they love. And very proud because those boys and girls carried themselves very well, through adversity and victories,” Ryan added.

This early, the players are back to their training. Eumir Siao wants to harness the momentum of the kids. Hamed Hajimediis aiming for a tournament in Europe for the Arayat Football Team. And the parents, like Judy Ann and Ryan Agoncillo, will drop everything to support their kids, whatever, and wherever it takes them.

As for Lucho, “I will continue to persevere so I can be proud of myself and be proud of the team.”

“We will do this for the country,” Lucho concluded with a golden smile as he wore his bronze medal around his neck. *