The dream team that taught the Philippines to love football
Basketball, basketball, and basketball—it seems like it is the only sport in the Philippines. The hot guys in our school were the basketball players, and everyone else was invisible. We are not even aware of the existence of some of the Philippine national teams, or we just don’t even care. That is, until December 2010 when the Azkals made a noise in the Asian football scene. They surprised everyone by qualifying for the semi-finals of AFF Suzuki Cup 2010 against Indonesia last year. You may not appreciate what this kind of victory means for us, but just so you know, we defeated the defending champion, Vietnam, during the prelims with a score of 2-0. We were supposed to be the weakest link in the competition but we were still able to qualify for the semis for the first time since we joined the league. Now that’s really something, right?
Since the Azkals have already captured the attention and the hearts of football fans and Filipinas everywhere, nothing can stop them now. They don’t want to be a fad, so they are doing their best to make the most out of their exposure and continue the momentum of their success. They actually exemplify the characteristics of a real askal or asong-kalye: a hungry, aggressive underdog.
There’s a lot of pressure that is being put on them since they cannot fail us. Yes, we lost in our last game against Kuwait for the World Cup qualifiers, but this doesn’t mean it’s the end of our football journey. Being able to reach round 2 of the qualifiers is already a big achievement for us and I believe that this isn’t a failure, but a delayed success for the Philippines.
You may not be aware but the Philippine Football Federation has already made a long term plan to achieve its goal of making football big here in the country. There are rumors that the PFF has its sights on “handsome” players—specifically half Filipinos-half foreigner types—just to give football that extra buzz. But no, it’s not what they wanted to do. We’re just lucky that Filipinos have good genes so I consider them a bonus.
Rather, this is a strategy that that involves scouting for experienced players, which in our case are the Fil-foreigners. During the time that these Fil-foreigners are playing for the country, pure Filipinos are already being trained. In fact, PFF is now scouting for young football players that will eventually represent the Philippines. For instance, Jinggoy Valmayor, one of the varsity players of UP Diliman, is being eyed by the present coach of Azkals, Michael Weiss. This means greater pride for our alma mater and for us, his schoolmates.
I am an admittedly Azkals fanatic, but I didn’t write this article to convince you to become like me. I wrote this in the hopes of helping everyone appreciate the effort that they’re making. Athletic or not, this is not about what sport to love but the realization that life is like a football game—anything is possible and you just have to believe in it.
Photo by Brosi Gonzales, taken from bleachersbrew.blogspot.com