Life in the Fast Lane

A TRIATHLETE'S MULTISPORT ADVENTURES, TRAVELS, RANDOM MUSINGS, AND CHRONICLES OF HER OTHERWISE ORDINARY LIFE

Much Ado About the Azkals

By 9:46 AM , , , , , , , , ,

Filipinos are sports lovers. Our build naturally allows for agility and toughness, two things required to be an athlete and sports aficionado. Basketball, for one, would always be the Filipino's favorite pastime. It also remains to be the most watched, talked about and hyped sport in the collegiate level. We also have a sprinkling of Filipino talent in other sports. Then we have boxing sensation and international superstar Manny Pacquiao. Nowadays, who doesn't know [of] him?

Being athletic myself (I was a competitive swimmer for almost ten years and I'm an active biker today), I instinctively gravitate towards all kinds of sports. When I was younger, I trained in basketball, gymnastics, badminton, taekwondo, and other sports I can't seem to recall at the moment. Some of my favorite things to watch on TV, to this day, are figure skating and gymnastic competitions, basketball games, swim meets, martial arts tournaments, and tennis matches.

But football was virtually unknown a year or so ago for most people — except for the locals who played the sport in their provinces and those whose cable TVs allowed them to watch international games on ESPN. I remember telling my blogger friend Marz, who is from Indonesia, that football isn't a big deal here. She wondered why this was so when football was her country's sport (as well as the sport of our other neighboring countries). Our football team was one of the oldest in Asia, but the influence of the Americans (who occupied the Philippines from the late 1800's to the 1900's) took over. Since then, basketball became our national sport.

Until the 2010 World Cup fever kicked in. Literally.

The few Filipinos who followed the international football scene followed their idols from ManU, Barca, Real Madrid, et al, and picked countries to root for. Soon enough, World Cup Mania was widespread. It was common to see Twitter and Facebook updates at two in the morning, Philippine time, because games were telecast around that time. While I cheered for Argentina and Brazil, I was really rooting for Spain since I spoke the language and an eighth of me is Spanish. Needless to say, I was beyond exultant when they took home the crown.

Enter the Philippine Azkals.

Itching for more football action, people's eyes turned to the recently formed Philippine football team. The "Azkals" (a derivative of the Filipino term for street dog) appealed to the team's literal underdog position. A few years back, they weren't getting enough support but as they continued to compete in the AFF, they started to get what they needed in terms of funding and sponsorships. Pretty soon, Fil-British brothers Phil and James Younghusband, who decided to make the Philippines their homebase, started making their rounds in the local scene as they conducted football clinics for kids and teens. Also, more Filipino players from other countries were being flown in to gel with the other Azkals. After the World Cup hype settled down, Filipinos all over waited to see how our team would fare in the AFF Suzuki 2010 Cup.

Surprisingly, the Azkals weren't just cruising along; they were actually doing well.

In November, the nation cheered as the Azkals beat the AFF defending champ Vietnam, 2-0. This victory is considered to be one of the biggest shocks, if not the biggest, in the history of the AFF. That's why it was no longer surprising to hear of how many people watched the Azkals' home match versus Mongolia in the Panaad Stadium, Bacolod City, in February of this year. Filipinos from all over flew in just for the game and it was another sweet victory: a 2-0 outcome in our favor, to be precise.

Shortly after the game against Mongolia, we started to hear about the Azkals' plans to join the World Cup qualifiers. Why not? we all thought. We were entitled to dream big for the country.

So preparations were underway.

The Azkals started to train hard for the first round. Their first away game vs. Sri Lanka was to take place on June 28.

I remember rushing home from work that day because I was dying to watch the game. I got home just in time to see the Sri Lankans score a goal minutes before halftime. It was frustrating because the Sri Lankans were aggressive and it seemed as if the Azkals were struggling just to survive. Thankfully, the game ended at 1-1. That meant a possibility of the Philippines winning on aggregate goals.

The home game was to take place last July 3rd and I knew that I needed to see this game live. It would be my first time to witness any sporting event on an international level and I was more than excited.

Decked in blue, my youngest brother CJ, best friend Mitch, and I joined the thousands of people who came in support of the Azkals. It was a hot afternoon and the traffic going to the newly renovated Rizal Memorial Stadium was horrendous, but I didn't care. I couldn't wait to watch the game!

It was beyond amazing to feel a sense of national pride and unity with the 15,000 Pinoys who were there (despite the downpour of rain midway into the first half until a few minutes after the second half). Rizal Memorial was a sea of blue. There were kids, elderly folk, parents, teenagers, yuppies; it was a well represented crowd. And of course, one couldn't help but notice the groups of female teens who came to ogle at their choice of Azkal heartthrobs: the Younghusband brothers, goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, defenders Aly Borromeo, Anton del Rosario and Stephan Schrock, and midfielder and recent recruit Angel Guirado, to name a few.

Whatever everyone's motive was — whether it was to see our team succeed or just the chance to catch a glimpse of Stephan Schrock's abs — it was a glorious day for every Filipino present. The Azkals rewarded the crowd with a 4-0 victory over Sri Lanka, entitling themselves to advance to the second round of the World Cup qualifiers. We can only thank the ever-feisty Chieffy Caligdong for the first goal, Phil Younghusband for scoring the next two despite a hamstring injury, and Angel Guirado for the smooth and suave fourth and final one.

The next round will see the Azkals competing against the more experienced, tougher Kuwait. Whether we advance or not, whether or not we actually reach Brazil in 2014, I'll be a proud Philippine Team fan; grateful that they've brought about a love for football once again.

Go, Pilipinas!

*********************

Here are some photos from Sunday's game vs. Sri Lanka. SLRs weren't allowed, but Mitch and I managed to take pretty decent shots with our prosumer digital cameras:

Team photo before the game.

Phil Younghusband going after the ball.

Keeper Neil Etheridge easily deflects a Sri Lankan goal attempt and kicks it back to his teammates.

Defender Anton del Rosario on defense mode.

Angel Guirado all smiles after scoring the 4th goal.

The sweetness of victory.

The victory parade around the oval.

This one's for you, ladies. Love, Stephan Schrock.

For more photos, please click on this link (only accessible if you're on Facebook).

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6 comments

  1. i had goosebumps watching on tv when the rain burst out its splendour but the filipino fans stood their ground....felt so proud...felt like a group effort where everyone said to themselves " walang iwanan"

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  2. Hello, anonymous! I share the same sentiment. It was amazing to be part of that unity and display of nationalism. :)

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  3. Hi Tins! I watched the game but it was on reply na in 23 :) really loved it! :) Go, Philippine Team! :)

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  4. Hey, Ives! Nice to hear from you! Don't forget to watch their games against Kuwait on the 23rd and 28th! :)

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  5. Go AZKALS Go! We filipino's proud of you all!

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  6. Hi, Basketball Gym Manila! Azkals all the way! :)

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