The Azkals and PH football’s agony and ecstasy


Philippine football memories are dominated by empty arenas and a few followers pouring scorn all over a national team constantly flogged by foreign competition.

Rewind to about this time in 2010, when our country, bannered by a gritty gang called the Azkals, became a shock semifinalist in the AFF Suzuki Cup—Southeast Asia’s most important sports tournament.

Suddenly soccer rose from the dead, scorn turned into support and borderline fans became fanatics, their million-candle power of devotion igniting interest all over the land for the team and their sport.

Spool forward to this Saturday, when the Azkals, honed into razor-sharp precision by the frenetic pace of warmup matches, including a victory over three-time AFF Cup winner Singapore—PH’s first in 40 or so years—open a new glory run.

The Azkals will first face three-time winner Thailand, 2008 champion Vietnam on Nov. 27 and qualifier Myanmar on Nov. 30 in Group A of the 2012 edition of the Cup, the region’s football championship.

About to be shorn of its overseas-based players, it will be interesting to watch the Azkals bring hope and happiness to a bleak and hopeless Philippine sports—a realm run by an old boys’ clique and a skipper with a rudderless ship.

Goalie Neil Etheridge, among the Azkals’ points of light, has reportedly been recalled by his English Premier League club. As I write this,  Philippine Football Federation president Nonong Araneta has been unable to confirm this development.

There were also unverified information that several Azkals will miss the early phases of the tournament since their home clubs are not in a releasing mood, the Suzuki being off the  Fifa calendar of international events.

But Azkals manager Dan Palami texted me from Thailand that Dennis Cagara of Germany’s Karlsruher SC, midfielder Jerry Lucena, a club footballer in Denmark, and Angel Guirado of the Spanish league are now with the team in Bangkok. Also accounted for are Fil-Dutch footballer Paul Mulder, Fil-Briton Rob Gier, Icelandic–Pinoy Ray Jonsson and Fil-Spaniard Juani Guirado Aldeguer, as well as talents from the domestic scene.

Araneta expects the Azkals to be at or near full strength, and that the national squad had worked its buns off tactics-wise while avoiding injury.

“The boys are not only out to prove that their semifinal run of two years ago was no fluke,” said Araneta. The Azkals, he added, are all out to sway people to a game best suited to our build and temperament and to convert believers of another team sport destined for skyscrapers-on-wheels, which we are not.

* * *

If you scan the landscape of my birthplace, Cuyapo, Nueva Ecija, it’s the patchwork of rice fields that makes it all so splendid. But your enjoyment is soon jarred by the rocky roads of Bentigan and Cacapasan near the border with Tarlac and Curva, Pugo and San Jose on the way to Pangasinan and the provincial capital of Cabanatuan.

I can still recall the times when my late, great bud, Bert “Tawa” Marcelo teased that the provincial roads leading to Cuyapo were worse than the lunar landscape. Bert’s digs still ring in my ears today.

The state of disrepair is evident on a stretch of the highway near the old railroad tracks up to the Shell station. It’s amazing why paving, started almost two years ago, remains unfinished as of my last visit this week. Paging Gov. Oyie Umali and Mayor Jong Corpus.

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  • Mark Lee Cinco

    (My Football Experience) What easily reminds me of were my football-playing years during high school (’98-’02), we were so addicted that time that we practice and play short futbol games after classes, we were i think the batch who were always on the school’s mini-pitch to play the beautiful game as others liked to play other ball games. Imagine, on the very first year of playing football with lack of experience, although we have 2 legitimate provincial meet players that time, no one would think of us to be crowned champions in the Intramurals as we were very small but quick little sleeping giants and from that on, we have embraced, loved and obsessed to playing football. It was a history in our school as Freshmen got to be Champs and the rest was a success story, we were Champions for three school years (Juniors, Seniors), only just to be eliminated in the Second Year when we lost our stiker/forward/main man (one of two experienced provincial meet players) when he transferred to another school. But it didn’t hinder us from proving ourselves even more to our counterparts in the school that being Freshmen Champs wasn’t just a fluke. I was the Last Man/Defender for the first year and second year contests that time but was slowly forming and curiously learning myself to become an “unstoppable” GK :) and come 3rd year and 4th year Intrams, I’ve proven to my batchmates that I can man between the posts amidst their apprehensions on my Gkeeping skills and then I was the official Goalkeeper of our batch, (yeah!, the position I was really obsessed with :) with each contest proving to be a tough one with two Championship Penalty Shoot-outs wherein I have to make brilliant saves, which fortunately and humbly I made a clean sheet during my GKeeping jobs in two years, and just to get back the title we have lost in the Sophomore days. That’s why I really could feel how our GKs (Etheridge, Muller, Sacapano) are elated everytime they make important, spectacular diving saves. Whew, what an unbelievable experience that was, and I will never forget those HS memories that I’ve had together with my co-futbol fanatic batchmates…

  • Mark Lee Cinco

    Go Azkals!!! Surprise the other ASEAN teams again…Filipinos are all out to support your every game. Viva Islas Pilipinas!!!

  • Lando

    tensionado na dito sa amin sa bicutan ….. all waiting for the match against thailand !

  • Rednaxela VD

    I thought I was reading an article from a college newspaper

  • ian martinez

    One day Azkals will be the best team in Asia

  • ealicer

    Ngaun pa lang nene-nervous na ako on what will happen on tomorrows game. Langya kasi yang AFF bat nila sununod yung FIFA calendar. 

  • agaylaya

    “Dennis Cagara of Germany’s Karlsruher SC, midfielder Jerry Lucena, a club footballer in Denmark, and Angel Guirado of the Spanish league are now with the team in Bangkok. Also accounted for are Fil-Dutch footballer Paul Mulder, Fil-Briton Rob Gier, Icelandic–Pinoy Ray Jonsson and Fil-Spaniard Juani Guirado Aldeguer”…… Pinoys from Germany, Denmark, USA, Spain, Holland, Britain, Iceland (baka mayrun pa dian) forming a national football team!  This is who we are ….the most dispersed race of the world. Mabuhay ang Pinoy – The citizen of the world.

    • ian martinez

      Most South American countries and many European countries are the same, maybe not mestizzos but living and working in other countries. All the Belgian stars play in England and Spain.

  • Maharlika2

    Goodluck Philippine Azkals! Aim for victory!

  • HRK1

    Gone are the days when the AFF Championship (aka Tiger Cup, now the Suzuki Cup) will come and go and the pinoy public wouldn’t care less. This is the first time in my 35 years of supporting football that a good percentage of the pinoy public (in PHI and overseas) is earnestly anticipating this upcoming edition….WOW !!!!

    • JC Mahamud

      a big development indeed in philippine futbol…fortunately i did not have to wait for 35 years, and i am glad that in my lifetime i witnessed the rise of futbol in the ccountry

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