The Miracle That Is the Philippine Azkals

Tonight the Philippine Azkals will play against Kuwait for the second round World Cup Qualifying match at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila. Everyone is praying for a miracle, especially after Kuwait’s 3 goals in the first round.

As my son and nephew has been saying, the Azkals need 4 goals and they should not allow the 95th-ranked Al-Azraq to score any.

Three factors could help the Azkals today:
  1. The boost from the return of Aly Borromeo and Stephan Schrock on the field.       The first round showed us how important effective defenders are.
  2. The twelfth man. The profound impact of supporters and fans on how a team      performs has long been acknowledged as effective, and in the case of Azkals it certainly helps.
  3. They have played against Kuwait before and have studied how the team plays and work together, and most importantly the team has learned their lesson from the first game and can correct the misconceptions and errors in the first.

While everyone is rooting for Azkals, with some “haters” on the side, and everyone praying for a miracle which is a win over a team that has been playing longer than ours have been, let us not forget that the Azkals have already performed a miracle. And that is to teach and unite our basketball loving countrymen into loving another sport. For a country deeply rooted in basketball, a sport made for tall people, we have made inroads in associated football. Every now and then we take notice of other sports, like baseball, volleyball and tennis, but we always go back to the one true love that is basketball. Seeing the number of Filipinos at the Rizal Memorial Stadium and the millions that tuned in on their TV screens is proof that we have embraced futbol. It took a long time but betcha it’s gonna stay for good.

I definitely pray they make more goals tonight not only for the glory of our country or for the adoration of the fans but more than ever, I pray they score for the team, for the players. They have worked so hard for this and they deserve it.

But, whether they score a goal or not, for me they are already winners. They have already won the hearts of the Filipinos, the adoration of the fans, the respect of other football teams and players.

Win or lose, they deserve our support. For sure, as the team continues to develop and evolve, as we continue to supply the Philippine National Football Team with talented Filipino – homegrown or not is not the issue – players, as the PFF financially supports the team with trainings, equipment and a home stadium to spend their trainings, we’ll get there.

And one of the best ways to show that is to continue our love affair with the game. Teach our kids the beauty, the hard work, the teamwork, the sportsmanship of the sport. Let us start them early because our physique is definitely more designed for futbol. The smaller size of Filipinos makes them nimble and quick which are a plus for a sport like soccer.

With that, I want to share the trailer of Happyland, an Indie film directed by Jim Librian that tackles the sport football. It is a story of the Tondo kids who are footballers dreaming to be international players and how they form a team in slum area of Tondo in Manila. Something all kids can do if they are really determined.


A Mom's Thoughts on Sports and a Black-eye

For the first time in 13 years I came home to see my son sporting a shiner. And as much as I wanted to fuss, I couldn't...I wouldn't dare insult my son. Just waited for him to show it to me and tell me what really happened. Oh, I so wanted to rush him, to ask him to give me a blow-by-blow account but I kept my lips sealed. I wanted to kiss it and make it well, but I stopped at just a touch at his cheek while asking if it hurts. His teammate was telling him to make excuses for what happened and he answered with: Why should I? My mom knows I play soccer and she has always said this is part and parcel of the sport. I remember seeing Fernando Torres of Liverpool once sporting a black-eye, too. 



Well yes so I always say that…he plays basketball and soccer, which are both contact team sports albeit limited-contact - meaning there are rules that specifically prevent intentional or unintentional contact between players and penalties can be incurred when it happens. I constantly remind him of that so he is prepared that this can happen, but should be avoided at all cost. Seeing him with a swollen though not yet a black-eye made me realize that I wasn't totally prepared to see him with one. All I could think of was how painful it could have been or worse, if it actually got broken, just like what happens in boxing. I can only imagine how Aling Dionisia feels when watching Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao getting himself hit in the boxing ring.



Forgive me for the melodrama, but he is my only son and I have tried my very best to ensure that he is kept away from harm’s way without cosseting or mollycoddling him. As he has told me often enough, he is no longer a baby. Spent part of the night looking at him while he was sleeping and though I may have said my poor baby several times (which btw I couldn't say while he was awake) it also made me realize that he really is grown-up. Going over his story made me realize he kept the story short and succinct, most likely without the gory details, but more on what the nurse said to do – the ice pack on the first night and hot compress on the next day. Maybe he didn't want to worry me too or to dwell on it much. Like I said…he really is now grown-up.

Today I could help but ask if we needed to see his doctor and he said he didn't need to. He had his sunglasses to cover the ugly swollen eye though he was a little shy about it coz it really wasn't that sunny…his worse luck. He rode his cousins’ service and not a public jeepney, making me think he didn't want people to see him and think he got into a fight. And I believe, he also told his girlfriend last night and was assured it was just okay. 

Ah sad is the day when he now worries what his girlfriend thinks and not his mom…but that is life…guess I have to get used to it. 

Japan's Nadeshiko: A Picture of Hardwork, Resilience and Teamwork

Japan players celebrate with the trophy after winning the final match between Japan and the United States at the FIFA Women's Soccer World Cup in Frankfurt, Germany, on Sunday. (Michael Probst/Associated Press)

Women's World Cup - so okay I was really rooting for USWNT or the US Womens National Team and they played really good but then again Japan played even better obviously.The victory of Japan brought great joy and pride to a country that has suffered and which continues to suffer from the effects of the devastating earthquake and tsunami which has killed a lot of its citizens. According to the players they were inspired by the resilience that their compatriots have shown as they continue top struggle with the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami. In the same way that the victory has inspired the survivors making them more optimistic with the future.

On the other hand, there has been a lot of negative comments from some Americans that brings to mind the relationship of Filipinos with football. While some, like me, have been soccer fans for quite sometime now, a typical Filipino knows the ins and outs of basketball. This is a country where you will see a basketball court in every town "plaza" and in every school or a basketball ring in every street intersection. The US has American football and baseball and basketball and they find soccer or associated football a little wimpy. Well, to each his own.

Still I say congratulations to USWNT and Japan's Nadeshiko for doing  a really swell job. The US Women's National Team handled their defeat with grace and can hold their heads high because they did everything to take home the cup. Japan's Nadeshiko gave not only pride by becoming the first Asian country to bring home the cup but also gave their fellowmen, especially those in Northern Japan, courage. Even the Prime Minister said so in his congratulatory message at the start of the Parliament session. 

And it is but right that Honare Sawa, skipper of the team, was given the Golden Boot for having scored the most number of goals in the competition. She was also adjudged the best player of the tournament and thus was picked out for the Golden Ball. And Goal.com also recognized her as:

World Player of the Week: Homare Sawa - Japan

Goal.com World Player of the Week #113: Homare Sawa
Club: INAC Kobe Leonessa  
Country: Japan
Age: 32
Role: Midfielder
Achievement: Inspired Japan to Women’s World Cup triumph

Mexico Defeat Uruguay to Win FIFA U-17 World Championship


Mexico won the Under-17 World Cup final on Sunday, defeating Uruguay 2-0 with goals from Antonio Briseno in the 31st minute and Giovani Casillas in second-half stoppage time. Team captain Briseño volleyed home a Carlos Fierro cross while Casillas poked home an insurance goal to give Mexico their second victory in two weeks.

The first being the senior side’s second straight CONCACAF Gold Cup title won by defeating United States 4-2 in California. The second victory within 2 weeks for Mexico football was this 2nd under-17 World Cup championship amidst the boisterous crowd at Azteca Stadium in Mexico.

GK Richard Sanchez

I believed though that goalkeepers also play a crucial role in a team success. Because what good is a defense if the competition is able to score for every goal attempts they make. I remember reading once that any football team with designs on success needs a strong backbone which is formed by the goalkeeper. In this case, the FC Dallas ‘keeper Richard Sanchez did a great job of containing the attempts first by Uruguay striker Rodrigo Aguirre who he met in a head-to-head collision, then in the 61st minute Aguirre’s substitute made another attempt which would have been the equalizer and the last was when he was able to make a save when Elbio Alvarez took a rip from 20 yards.

First goal by team captain Antonio Briseño

Scorers against Germany (Gomez) and Uruguay (Casillas)


While Biseño gave the first goal for Mexico, the second goal by Casillas certainly made the day for nearly 100,000 fans at the Azteca. It may not have been the prettiest goal but it was perfect as a goal with Uruguay still searching for the equalizer it definitely put the final result beyond doubt.

Team Captain Antonio Briseño leads by example: character and  leadership

Biseño though is a pretty good captain as seen when one who wears the same team uniforms as him fell in pain. Instead of celebrating with the team, Biseño immediately went to Gomez who was lying in the ground in pain, alerted first the referee and then Mexico’s coaching staff, who had all been celebrating the goal. If football captaincy is all about character and leadership, then Antonio Briseno fulfils the job requirements to perfection.


But the man of the hour is midfielder Julio Gomez. His two goals against Germany gave them not only the chance for the finals but also gave him the Golden Ball. The first goal had him going head to head against another player when his teammate Jorge Espericueta sent a corner kick directly into the German net to bring them to a draw at 2-2.  And though he was advised by the medical team not to play anymore, he knew he didn’t have any choice because that would leave the team down to 10 players. And though he told his teammate that he(Casillas) had to hit it because he couldn’t because of his injury, when he was given the opportunity he toom it via an overhead kick that went thru.

During the final game against Uruguay, he received the biggest roar when he finally entered the pitch, head still bandaged, mid-way through the second half. Like the fans, the media also gave him the biggest roar and voted him the adidas Golden Ball winner as tournament top player by a wide margin.

"You always dream of scoring important goals, but this one tops them all,” Mexico U-17 hero Julio Gomez


TEEN AZKALS: The Future of Philippine Football



While all eyes are on the Philippine National Football Team or Philippine AZKALS as they prepare for the next qualifying game against Kuwait, the next generation members of the team called Teen AZKALS will be competing in the ASEAN Football Federation Under-16 Youth Championship 2011 in Vientiane, Laos from July 7 to 21.

The Philippine Azkals’ goal to qualify to the FIFA World Cup remains a question, as the long road to World Cup will entail them to compete with several national football teams including Kuwait who has been playing for a long time and is ranked 101st to Philippines 159th  in the world. The Kuwait has appeared once in World Cup and 8 times in AFC, and has even won the AFC Cup in 1980.  Even manager Dan Palami admits “the chances are quite slim but that is all they need to attain victory as long as they train with their heart.” And certainly the Filipinos are rooting for them, but whether they do qualify or not, the Azkals has brought football to the hearts of a country that has always been into basketball.

The future Azkals is also here. The Teen Azkals is composed of under-16 years old football players from different high schools in different parts of the Philippines. The team is led by head coach Tomasito Glenn Ramos and manager Alvin Carranza.

If given the proper support, I believe that the Teen Azkals can go a long way. The Philippine Football Federation (PFF) has channeled some of their budgets for the further development of the players since these kids are the future of Philippine Football. If we do well in giving them the necessary support in trainings, mentoring, complete sports gear, and many more, the Philippine football will reap the rewards in the future. If properly trained, this may be the team to propel us to World Cup.

So I say let us all support the present, the Philippine Azkals, and the future of Philippine football, the Teen Azkals. 

AZKALS Make Their Mark In Philippine Football History

At last!

After so many years of rooting for Los Blancos (and recently, FC Schalke 04 becoz of Raul) and by default to Spain, I can now support my own team, the Azkals, our very own Philippine National Football Team.

We were watching the game last Sunday inside my sister’s bedroom since I do not have a TV inside mine, and though the TV in the living room is bigger, it seemed more natural (and excitingly noisy) to watch together. So one can only imagine how crowded it was with 4 adults and 5 children ranging from ages 6 to 13 and all of us shouting, getting all excited, and giving their own versions to some of the moves. Since I started watching late coz I had to finish something I thought the Azkals were wearing their home team uniforms which is the white so I was lost for a few seconds. I know that they wore the blue soccer kit in Sri Lanka because that is their away team uniforms. My son was teasing me that it was okay for me to cheer for the white team if I really wanted to but then I wouldn’t be cheering for Aly then, he knows who my favorite is among the Azkals.

My sister is new on football and so she really doesn’t know the game and the players. So aside from asking what goes on she has to ask who the players are every time the player is captured on cam. So from her hubby down to the kids they have to give the names. The funny thing is that at first it was just me and my son who could recognize the players at the end of the game, even the other kids knew one from the other. My sister definitely knows one player even when it is not a close-up shot, and that player is none other than Emilio “Chieffy” Caligdong.

Yes, Chieffy may not be as handsome as Phil or James Younghusband, as big as skipper Aly Borromeo or Angel Guirado, dramatic as Stephan Schrock but he is definitely the local hero of Azkals. It was his first goal in the 19th minute of the opening half, amidst the torrential downpour, that set the tone for the game. And from then on a goal came from Phil on the 43rd minute to make it 2-0, and then on the 56th minute Angel Guirado made a beautiful goal to make it 3-0. I say beautiful because it was poetry in motion from the pass that James Younghusband made to midfielder Angel where he had to evade Sri Lankan goalkeeper Fernando in something like a feint to make the goal. Though I find it really funny that again, just like when they played against Blue Wolves, I did not see Chieffy make the goal. As usual, I was in the bathroom, doing my thing, when the people inside the room shouted as one…and I almost slipped so I could hurry out. And the kids were urging me to go out every now and then, as if the Azkals didn’t want me to see them making the goal, duh!

There might be names that stand out but each member of the team is worthy of an accolade. They each played their role and made beautiful music together. Defender Stephan Schrock, Midfielders James Younghusband, Paul Mulders and Manuel Ott’s footwork is wondrous to watch, the way they dribble, and keep the ball in their possession, and make a pass is unbelievable. Also noteworthy are the different moves that skipper Aly Borromeo, Anton del Rosario and Rob Gier did to ensure their defense, they sure didn’t let up and so Sri Lanka was able to make only 2 goal attempts. Neil Etheridge made sure no goal attempt by the Sri Lanka Brave Reds gave them a score. I had to emphasize this though, that although each one has their particular role in the game, team work is still essential in the game. And compared to the first game, the Azkals have found a way that they can help each other out; found a way to complement each other, so that they can make their contribution and mark in the Philippine football history.

And to their detractors, they proved they are not just handsome faces, they are real football players.

This last portion is for my sister:

No.

Pos.

Player

DoB/Age

Club

1

GK

Neil Etheridge

7 February 1990 (age 21)

Fulham

22

GK

Eduard Sacapaño

14 February 1980 (age 31)

Philippine Army

2

DF

Rob Gier

6 January 1980 (age 31)

Ascot United

3

DF

Jason Sabio

30 June 1986 (age 25)

Rocket City United

4

DF

Anton del Rosario

23 December 1981 (age 29)

KAYA FC

11

DF

Alexander Borromeo (captain)

29 June 1983 (age 28)

KAYA FC

17

DF

Stephan Schröck

21 August 1986 (age 24)

Greuther Fürth

6

MF

Roel Gener

27 June 1974 (age 37)

Philippine Army

7

MF

James Younghusband

4 September 1986 (age 24)

San Beda

8

MF

Manuel Ott

6 May 1992 (age 19)

Ingolstadt 04 II

9

MF

Paul Mulders

16 January 1981 (age 30)

ADO Den Haag

12

MF

Ángel Guirado

9 December 1984 (age 26)

Ronda

13

MF

Emelio Caligdong

8 September 1982 (age 28)

Philippine Air Force

15

MF

Ricardo Becite

13 April 1986 (age 25)

Philippine Army

19

MF

Nestorio Margarse

3 May 1976 (age 35)

Philippine Army

10

FW

Phil Younghusband

4 August 1987 (age 23)

San Beda

14

FW

Misagh Bahadoran

10 January 1987 (age 24)

Global

18

FW

Nate Burkey

7 January 1985 (age 26)

KAYA FC

23

FW

Ian Araneta

2 March 1982 (age 29)

Philippine Air Force


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