National Azkals Day

December 5, 2010.  Wala pa akong kamalay malay na gumagawa na ng history ang Azkals sa Hanoi nung araw na ‘yun.  Habang nagpapakalunod ako sa mga libro at notes ko para sa finals, unti-unti na palang nakakaahon ang Philippine football sa akala na ng lahat na palubog nang bangka ng pagkapanalo kahit wala silang salbabiba, lifeboats, sagwan, at arkiladong lifeguards.

Dahil maaga pa ang pasok ko bukas at kailangan ko nang matulog, to follow na lang ang blogpost ko para sa Azkals.  Sa ngayon, isang simple pero bonggang congrats at salamat muna sa Azkals, kay ex-coach Simon McMenemy, sa lahat ng hindi sumuko sa national team, at kay Sir Dan Palami.  Kung may powers lang ako, hindi ko lang itetrending topic kundi idedeklara ko pa talaga na National Azkals Day ang araw na ‘to (I-holiday na ito Mr. President!)

image from Anton's twitter


Azkals: Pinoy Pride!

**I just translated this Azkals post which I wrote last week to check how many English words I could think of before 2010 ends. LOLJK.  There are some grammatical errors but I hope this article is as inspiring? as the Tagalog version.  Go #Azkals!

I don’t know how weird it is, but I grew up with the reality that sports (in general) I guess any physical activity you could think of and I are not a match made in heaven.  Although basketball seems like the greatest game on earth (at least, in the Philippines), I never tried playing basketball except for the obligatory basketball drills during freshman year in high school because I’m too short.  I can only run as fast as my friends’ average walking pace so I was never good enough to join the softball team.  Incoming flying balls scare the hell out of me, which makes me ineligible to play almost all kinds of sport.  Intramurals were nothing more than a three-day-well-deserved vacation for me.  But like that story told by whomever, there’s always a twist, that moment of realization where whoever is in the story should reconsider everything he thought was right in his life.  I guess mine dramatically came with the Azkals (Philippine National Football Team) and the recently concluded Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup.

I first heard “football” when I learned to play that random game where the rules are basically similar to a baseball game with the exception of batting the ball.  I guess they called it “football” because the player will kick the ball, which is bigger but lighter ‘cause it’s made of plastic than a baseball, rolled by the pitcher.  Aware that I don’t have the “athletic” genes, I still dared to play with the other kids and, believe it or not, I was not the lamest “football” player of us all.  Although I did score a few homeruns and still enjoy reminiscing those moments, I know that there’s the other football (I must admit, the original one) and I don’t want to deal with the confusion between football and soccer, google will kindly help you.  It’s far more exciting (I guess) and every part of the game was well thought out, but it became part of that list-of-things-I-would-never-get-involved-with-even-if-the-world-would-end-tomorrow.  In fact, I would have put all kinds of sport on that list (except for basketball which I occasionally appreciate for the reason that basketball games are everywhere; it’s shown on local and cable tv channels, there’s more basketball courts than Barangay health centers, and Filipinos can play on the streets whenever they want even with slippers/flip flops on).

I never understood football.  Waiting for a goal seemed like the closest approximation of forever.  Teams and leagues evolved worldwide.  David Beckham became a star.  Everyone tweeted madly about their favorite teams and players during the World Cup last summer.  Nothing hit me.  My life still went on without inhaling the football spirit and chanting the words of football fanatics.  Then came the news about the Azkals’ victory over the 2008 AFF Suzuki Cup champion, Vietnam, last December 05.  It finally hit me and google search hits about Phil and James Younghusband crazily went up.  I never thought (or should I say who would have thought?) that the Philippine national football team could do that in any lifetime, in my lifetime, at least.

Frankly, I don’t know the terms and rules in football, and you can kill me now but I can’t even namedrop one of the greatest football teams in the world.  I don’t know how I knew it, but seeing the Azkals play their hearts out since I’ve turned my eyes towards football and the team, I could not help but smile you know that smile you see on people’s faces in weddings or that face on parents when they see their kid play as a cactus in his kindergarten’s first school play? Yeah, that smile.  I felt proud and grateful that I am a Filipino, and it felt great.  I don’t know how I can emphasize how great it was, but really, it was awesome.

The team lost against Indonesia in the AFF semi-finals yet I have realized so much because of them.  I would not have noticed them if they did not qualify for the semis.  I or we would not have known that they’re there, willing to represent the Philippines and proudly scream Mabuhay ang mga Pilipino (Long live the Filipinos) for the whole world to hear.  As much as I hate to admit it but I am one of those Filipinos who only took time watching and cheering them on because they WON (against Vietnam).  Why would I/we bother supporting a losing team? Before the Azkals’ 1st game against Indonesia, I expected them to win.  I wanted them to win.  Who wouldn’t? But I realized, this time, it’s not always about winning.

I did my research so I know that Each team gets to play a home game.  The Azkals’ home game was their first game in the semis.  They tasted the warmth of any home game in Gelora Bung Karno in Indonesia.  Just the idea of it annoys me.  That’s more painful than how I imagine heartbreak feels like.  Being only familiar with basketball games, I know that a home game will always be advantageous to the team: whatever the players do (even an obvious foul), the audience will always be on their side (consistently booing the referee and the other team).  When I heard that the Azkals could not play in the Panaad stadium in Bacolod since that venue did not pass the AFF standards, I felt, with my “basketball knowledge”, that that decision deserves a teary-eyed boo.  HOME GAME.

I thought it was unacceptable and unfair.  Finding some comfort from tweets of undying support for the team, I eventually realized that if Azkals defeated Vietnam in Hanoi, they CAN win again even if it’s in Jakarta.  They can win anywhere.  That’s how fearless Filipinos are.  Backing out has always been excluded from our Plan A to Plan Z.  We keep in mind that failure is inevitable but will not always be enough to stop a Filipino dream.  Honestly, the team not playing in Bacolod was, in a way, in favor of them.  The Azkals were saved from a game where politicians and celebrities hungry for power and any chance of corrupting Filipinos’ minds and wallets and attention could have overshadowed the history that the Azkals were trying to create.  Yes, that home game, which the team has worked hard for and dreamt of for years, was stolen from them, but they were given a well-deserved opportunity to play the game they love whole-heartedly for their country who loves them back without the unnecessary drama of politics and show business.

I never knew how far Indonesians would go for the sake of their country until I watched the AFF Suzuki Cup.  I must admit that they deserve our respect for not giving up as much as the Azkals did.  I have always been proud of how Filipinos support each other in whatever competition known to man: beauty pageant, singing contest, reality show, vying for a Guinness book of world records spot, athletic events, any contest where a winner will be declared.  But I never knew that the time that we will be rooting for our own football team would come.  Although it was frustrating that we were not there during the games to cheer for the Azkals and make them feel the love we’ve deprived them of for all these years, I know that there were a lot of Filipinos who watched, cheered, shouted cursed because of the red card given to Greatwich at their TV screens.  I salute the Filipinos and the team.

Perhaps supporting our national football team is something we’re not used to (or maybe the support we showed during the AFF Suzuki cup 2010 games was not even half of what we’re capable of and what the world sees every time Manny Pacquaio steps in a boxing ring) and the Azkals has just entered this football arena of fighting for one’s country’s pride and glory.  We may seem amateur on this one, but this is definitely a battle we should never back out from.  Filipinos are not just known as the greatest boxer of all time punching and knocking people out.  Filipinos are not just capable of belting out the highest octave possible.  Yes, Manny Pacquaio and Charice Pempengco represented our country quite well and absolutely made Jose Rizal and all the heroes who died for us proud, but we should not hide behind them forever.  The Azkals are willingly giving us that chance to come out and see a different light this time.

Some say heroes are born while others say they are made.  I do believe they are born heroes, but they have to be made into one as well.  I don’t know if it’s just me, but our country really needs heroes, lots of them, to erase or change the stereotypes we created for ourselves and how the world thinks of us, Filipinos.  Luckily, they’re given to us (and probably some died without us knowing that they existed), and the Azkals are one of them.  However, they need us as much as we need them.  The responsibility given to them as part of our national team will be more challenging if we continue to live in a society with a questionable system of justice and equality and a government which still fails to eliminate corruption and its roots.  Those heroes cannot just pull us out of all these dilemmas and give us the taste of victory and the world’s honor while we sit comfortably and constantly demand them to win and make us happy.  We don’t even have an internationally-qualified stadium made for them.  They need us to help each other out, to lighten the burden they have to carry for our country’s triumph.  I will always be grateful to the Azkals for reviving that faith on real change I’ve or we’ve lost along the way and for making us realize that football players and other athletes in the country lack the attention and support (in all aspects) that they deserve.  They may not have brought home the AFF Suzuki Cup trophy this year, but what they did was enough to jumpstart the game of the Azkals, the game of the Filipinos.  And with that, history will be made.

Kudos to the Azkals Philippine National Football Team!

sweet victory! Azkals game against Vietnam (Dec 05, 2010) Reference: Azkals Facebook Fanpage

Azkals: Pinoy Pride!

Aminado ako na hindi ako mahilig sa sports.  Maliit ako kaya talo sa basketball.  Mabagal akong tumakbo kaya lugi ako sa softball. Takot ako sa bola kaya hindi ako qualified sa halos lahat ng laro.  Kaya laos sa akin ang Intrams nung high school.  Para sa akin, tatlong araw lang ‘yun na walang pasok at stress-free, wala ng iba.  Pero dahil sa Azkals (Philippine National Football Team) at sa AFF Suzuki Cup 2010, na-realize ko na medyo wala pala akong kwenta.

Namuo ang idea ko ng football nung naglalaro ako nung bata ako nung parang baseball pero walang bat dahil sisipain lang nung titira ang bola na ipinagulong ng “pitcher”, kaya sa tuwing naririnig ko ang football, nagrerewind lang ang childhood ko at ang mga home runs ko.  Pero alam ko namang may sport talaga na football dahil meron nun sa Family computer, at alam kong soccer ang tawag ng iba dun dahil meron ding American Football.  Pero tumanda akong malayo ang loob sa football at sa halos lahat ng sports (bukod sa occasional kong pagpepretend na isa akong basketball fan).  Para kasing nakakainip ang pagdating ng isang goal.  Sumikat si David Beckham, walang epekto.  Dumaan ang World Cup nung summer na halos lahat ng classmates ko at mga tao sa twitter ay bukambibig ang favorite team nila, pero wala pa ring epekto sa akin. Nang matalo ng Azkals ang Vietnam (2008 suzuki cup champion) nung December 5, madami ang nagising sa katotohanan at tumaas ang google search hits ni phil at james younghusband.  Nakakahiya man pero katulad ng karamihan, hindi ko akalain na may ibubuga pala tayo sa football (soccer kung gusto mo).

Hindi ko alam ang lahat ng terms sa isang football game at hindi ko din alam kung sinu-sinong team ang pinakamagagaling sa mundo (bukod sa spain na nanalo sa fifa world cup 2010, salamat sa twitter sa pagiging instant newspaper ko).  Pero sa iilang beses na napanood ko ang Azkals, napatango na lang ako at napangiti sa sobrang pagka-proud sa pagiging Pilipino ko.

Natalo man tayo sa Indonesia sa semi-finals (see inserted video: aminado akong ang bongga ng goal ni Gonzales), marami akong narealize dahil sa Azkals at sa mga tweets na nabasa ko.  Kung hindi pa sila nakapasok sa semis ng Suzuki Cup ngayong taon ay hindi ko pa o hindi pa NATING lahat mapapansin at mararamdaman na andyan pala sila na willing iwagayway ang bandila natin at ipagsigawan na Mabuhay ang mga Pilipino.  Nakakahiya man pero kabilang ako sa mga taong ngayon lang nakinood ng football dahil NANALO sila.  Bakit naman kailangan pang pagaksayahan ng panahon kung talunan lang din naman, di ba? Bago ang laban nila sa Indonesia, umasa ako na mananalo ulit sila lalo pa’t mas dumami na ang supporters nila (kasama ako) at bilang tumaas naman ang confidence nila dahil 2-0 ang score sa laban nila sa Hanoi, pabor sa Pinas.  Pero narealize kong medyo wala pala talaga akong kwenta.

Dalawang game ang semi-finals, tig-isang home game ang bawat team.  ‘Yung unang laban ng Azkals ang home game nila.  Nakuha nila ang home game nila sa Gelora Bung Karno, sa Indonesia.  Nakakainis.  Nakakaiyak.  Parang teleserye ‘yung emote moment.  Sa NBA, napansin ko na advantage kadalasan ang home game, mas madaming fans, mas sanay ka sa court, mas matindi ang love at support ng paligid, may lisensya ang players na magyabang sa bawat pagshoot niya.  Kaya nadismaya ako nung malaman kong hindi pwedeng ganapin ang home game ng Azkals sa Panaad stadium sa Bacolod dahil hindi pasado sa AFF standards.  HOME GAME.  Parang sinumbatan ka siguro ng anak mo na mas feel-at-home siya sa kapitbahay niyo kaya dun niya gustong gawin ang  7th birthday niya.  Ganun kadrama at ka-cinematic.

Malungkot man sa unang rinig, pero tama sila (lahat ng source ko ay tweets, hail the power of twitter) na kung nakaya ng Azkals na iangat ang Pilipinas sa Hanoi, kakayanin uli nila sa Jakarta.  Sabi nga, worldwide ang mga Pinoy.  Hindi tayo choosy kung nasaang sulok man tayo ng mundo, hangga’t baon natin ang mga buo nating pangarap at pagmamahal ng mga mahal sa buhay.  At saka, aminin man natin o hindi, maraming pulitiko at artista, baon ang mga pekeng ngiti at hot na hot na intriga, ang makikiagaw lang ng limelight sa buong team kung maglalaro sila sa Pinas.  Mas magulo, mas maraming distractions sa team, mas malapit sa korupsyon.  Naagawan man ang Azkals ng isang HOME game na pinaghirapan nila at ilang taon ding pinangarap, naibigay sa kanila ang buong pagkakataong ibangon ang mga sarili nila, ang Pilipinas, tayo at mas naramdaman nilang lalo ang suporta ng mga Pilipino ng walang bahid ng pulitika at pakikiusyoso lang.

Nakita  at naramdaman ko (at mo rin siguro) kung paano sumuporta ang buong Indonesia sa halos lumalangoy na kulay ng pula sa stadium sa 2 games ng Azkals sa semis.  Bukod sa nakakamangha naman talaga ang laki ng stadium nila, nakakamangha din ang suporta at pagmamahal nila sa sarili nilang football team.  Karamihan sa kanila, ipinanganak na sa paglalaro at panonood ng football. At dahil dun, saludo din ako sa kanila.


Matagal ko ng alam kung paano sumuporta ang mga Pilipino kahit anong sports pa yan, singing contest, beauty pageant, at kahit ano pa mang labanan.  Pero ngayon lang ang sa football.  Sa twitter pa lang, umusok na ang timeline ko sa updates sa leg 2 ng semis kaninang umaga.  Nakakalungkot man isipin na hindi nasaksihan ng Azkals ang suporta ng mga Pinoy sa loob mismo ng Gelora Bung Karno, alam ko, sigurado ako na marami ang nakatutok, napasigaw, napamura sa red card ni Greatwich sa live broadcast sa TV kanina.  Sabi ko nga, hindi tayo choosy pagdating sa lugar.  Dahil dun, saludo ako sa mga Pinoy.  At kahit mabingi na sila sa ingay ng fans ng kalaban, ni hindi man lang sumuko at napagod ang buong team sa pagbantay sa bola at sa paggoal nito.  Buong buo ang determinasyon at pagnanais na manalo, dahil dun, saludong saludo ako sa mga Pinoy.


Siguro nga baguhan pa ang buo nating suporta (o maaaring hindi pa ito buo) sa national football team at maaaring nagsisimula pa lang ang history ng Azkals kung ikukumpara natin sa lagay ng Indonesia at sa karamihan ng Asian teams.  Ganunpaman, hindi na dapat natin sayangin pa ang pagkakataong nasa harap na natin ngayon.  Hindi lang tayo pang-boxing.  Hindi lang tayo pang-biritan.  Hindi lang tayo nagtatago sa anino ni Manny Pacquiao o ni Charice Pempengco.  Taas noo nating sabihin na pang-football din tayo.  Kung itatanong sayo kung ano ang FIFA ranking natin, sabihin mong pang-150 FOR NOW….but wait there’s more. Watch out. <evil grin>


Hindi lang ipinapanganak ang bayaning iniisip nating maglilinis sa pangalan ng Pilipinas sa isip at puso mo mismo at sa buong mundo, kundi kailangan ng mahabang panahon bago sila tuluyang umusbong at magtagumpay.  Walang mangyayari kung ipinanganak sila sa isang gobyernong walang malinis na intensyon at sa lipunang kapos sa hustisya at pagkakapantay-pantay.  Hindi rin niya (o nila) kakayaning hilahin tayong lahat pataas kung iilan na nga lang sila ay nagpapahila lang tayo sa kanila imbes na tumulong sa pagtulak sa bawat isa, mas malala kung may iilang nanghahatak pababa.  Isang matinding pasasalamat sa Azkals sa pagbuhay ng dugo ng maraming Pilipino at pagmulat sa katotohanang maraming atleta ang hindi nabibigyan ng kaukulang pansin at suporta (lahat ng aspeto).  Hindi man sila nakapasok sa finals, sapat na ang pakiramdam na isa akong Pilipino.  Marami pang susunod na laban, MARAMI PA.  Kung nagawa ng mga lolo at tatay natin na ipaglaban ang Ginebra all the way, kakayanin uli natin MAGMULA NGAYON, manalo man o matalo.