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PH bets start SEAG campaign

The Philippines swings into action today in the 29th Southeast Asian Games with matches in football, water polo and netball in separate venues in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Bolstered by the return of three players responsible for the country’s string of three silver medal finishes, the water polo squad battles Thailand at 11 a.m. in one of four matches set at the National Aquatic Center in KL Sports City.

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At 3 p.m., the Philippines takes on Thailand in netball.

A pair of football matches wraps up the country’s schedule.

The men’s team, a collection of top collegiate and club players, clashes with Cambodia at 8:45 p.m. at the Selayang Stadium.

Over at the UiTM Shah Alam Stadium, the women’s squad battles Malaysia also at 8:45 p.m.

Two years ago, the Filipinos dropped all their four matches in water polo to finish last in the five-team event.

Fresh from a 35-day training stint in Europe, the Nationals are exuding confidence in their bid for a podium finish.

Dale Evangelista is coming out of a six-year retirement to join fellow veterans Roy Canete, Frazier Alamara and long-time goalkeeper Tani Gomez.

All four played key roles in the country’s silver medal finishes in 2005, 2007 and 2009.

Evangelista, a 38-year-old member of the coaching staff, will replace Adan Gonzales who fractured a finger during the team’s 35-day training in Europe.

“I was not exactly inactive since I kept my body in shape,” said Evangelista is expected to reinforce the team’s frontline.

How far the team will go will be known against Thailand which took the bronze two years ago in Singapore.

Playing against bigger and stronger players in Europe has helped toughened the team, according to Evangelista.

“Marami kaming natutunan,” said Evangelista, a one-term Manila councilor.

Singapore is the undisputed king in the region, having dominated the event for 26 straight Games.

But the Filipinos have closed the gap in recent years and nearly pulled an improbable upset in 2009 where they lost by a measly two goals.

In 2011, the Filipinos landed fourth after figuring in a three-team tie for second in 2011. The country did not send a team in 2013.

On Wednesday, the first four gold medals of the Games will be at stake in archery and sepak takraw.

Amaya Paz-Cojuangco hopes to improve on her silver medal finish in 2015 when she leads the campaign in women’s individual compound.

Cojuangco will be joined by former champion Jennifer Chan, Kim Concepcion and Abbigail Tindugan.

Seeing action in the men’s individual compound are Joseph Vicencio, Niron Concepcion, Paul dela Cruz and Earl Benjamin Yap.

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