AFF Suzuki Cup 2018: Jovin Bedic an unlikely hero for Azkals in draw with Thailand

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AFF Suzuki Cup
The 28-year-old came off the bench to score as the Philippines split points with Thailand...

Substitute Jovin Bedic scored an opportunistic goal in the 80th minute last Wednesday as the Philippines held Thailand to a 1-1 draw in a AFF Suzuki Cup group game in Bacolod's Panaad Stadium.

The Kaya-Iloilo striker fired the ball from just outside the box. It may have taken a deflection as it clanged off the Thai keeper and off the post, for it to trickle over the line, igniting celebrations among the Filipino fans.

The draw keeps the Philippines unbeaten on 7 points from 3 games, on track to return to the semis. 
 
"The combination with Strauss was there," said Bedic in Filipino afterwards. 

"I got the ball and turned, the goal was in sight. As a striker I had no choice but to shoot it."

Jovin Bedic

Bedic is unique among every other player the Philippines has used in this edition of the AFF Championship. The bulk of their squad is foreign born-and raised, the children of Filipinos who went to Europe to find work, and saw their kids excel in football and make it to the Azkals.

But don't be fooled by Bedic's Balkan-sounding name. The striker is a throwback, a Philippine-born and raised player who hails from the fabled Philippine football town of Barotac Nuevo, in the province of Iloilo.

A 30 minute drive from Iloilo City gets you to the small farming village. Unlike most communities in this basketball-addled nation, football is the game here. Instead of a plaza in front of the Saint Anthony de Padua church, Barotac Nuevo's main house of worship, there is a regulation football field where boys and girls of all ages play regularly, virtually every day of the year.

Barotac Nuevo is famous for producing world-class footballers, the fruit of a culture of constant recreational play since an early age, much like towns in the rest of Southeast Asia.  They are especially good at churning out strikers.

Two of Bedic's fellow Barotac Nuevo marksmen are Yanti Barsales, an international goalscorer against Syria in 2002 World Cup qualifying, and Ian Araneta, who busted the nets nine times for the Philippines in senior play. They are both his uncles.

Another Barotac legend is Emelio "Chieffy" Caligdong, who struck 16 times for the Azkals, most notably the chest-trap and volley goal he scored against Mongolia, also in Panaad stadium in 2011.

Ruben "Balot" Doctora is another town-mate who is an international scorer for the  Philippines. The diminutive Stallion Laguna forward scored against Nepal in a friendly in 2014 and was deployed by the Azkals as recently as 2017.

The current Philippine Football Federation president, Mariano "Nonong" Araneta, is also from Barotac Nuevo. When he played for the national team in the 80s, more than half of the starting 11 came from that one town.

Bedic is simply following a town tradition. And his goal is another milestone in what has been an extraordinary year for him.

The 28-year old scored 9 times and dished out 7 assists in the league phase of the Philippines Football League, as Kaya finished second to Ceres Negros in the standings.

But he saved his best moment for the PFL Cup final, spearing a 119th minute goal to beat Davao Aguilas 1-0 in extra time.   The victory allowed Kaya to lift silverware for the first time in three years, and to also qualify for the 2019 AFC Cup.

Bedic was then selected for what can be described as a Philippine developmental squad for the Bangabanghu Cup in Bangladesh. There he won and scored a penalty against Laos, then was involved in the only goal against the hosts.

Unlike many from the poor rural football towns of the Philippines, Bedic is decently-sized, about 5'8", and physically imposing. He also has a high football IQ that is prized by his coaches.

Last Wednesday he was coach Sven Goran Eriksson's second substitution with 13 minutes to go. The Thais were leading 1-0  thanks to Supachai Jaided's strike soon after the half.

Eriksson had never seen Bedic play in a match in person but had only watched him on video.

"He is a good player. He can make things happen when he comes in.  He can dribble, he is physically strong, and I am very happy that he scored the goal," said the former England coach. 

No doubt Bedic will inspire many young homegrown Filipino players. The presence of overseas-born talent has been a massive boost to Philippine football, but there are still local players who can contribute to senior national team.

The next generation of Barotac Nuevo players is in the pipeline. Martini Rey is a talented youngster who has already played for the Philippines U19 national team, and is certainly one to watch out for in the future.

But the moment belongs to Bedic, who is the toast of Philippine football. But there is little time to celebrate. The Azkals next play Indonesia on Sunday in Jakarta, with a draw sealing passage to the next round, while a loss may not be enough depending on the result of Singapore vs Thailand.

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