Thank God for Sir David Beckham
It bore the dark promise of a public flogging.
The Philippine Azkals indeed took the risk of being severely beaten and humiliated before the hometown crowd.
In fact, there was no hint whatsoever of a soft stand from the visiting LA Galaxy team, despite the game being a friendly.
There was only one certainty: Both sides would kick hard and do their utmost best.
* * *
The Azkals, as expected, went down by a humbling 1-6 scoreline.
But by the time Phil Younghusband scored in the 41st minute to trim the Galaxy lead, 1-2, there was grateful glee ringing from Filipino fans, including those who may have decided to watch a football game only for the first time.
Delight was in the air.
* * *
Fears of an ugly thrashing were temporarily stilled.
And all the visitors had to do was play truly hard, even at points when incredulous local players behaved like mongrel pups yelping in protest over referee’s calls.
The fabulous David Beckham, former England team skipper, himself later acknowledged they could not take it easy even for a moment.
He said the Azkals packed great potentials, and honored this with that beauty of a curling kick, which he sent for the first time again, after a long, long lull, right here in Manila.
* * *
Manny Pacquiao did not come early enough to witness Beckham break the ice, scoring on a trademark bending ball from far right in the 20th minute.
But Pacquiao, who earlier spoke against the fickleness of some home fans following his controversial majority decision win over Juan Manuel Marquez, landed back in the loving arms of his countrymen who packed the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
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It did help that Beckham went out of his way, took off his jersey and walked to where Pacquiao was seated with wife Jinkee.
Beckham, a lead glamor figure in world sports, handed his jersey to the world boxing icon, not unlike a visiting dignitary humbling himself and making an offering to a resident royalty.
Claiming he was thrilled no end playing before the Pacman, Beckham later offered honest words of praise for Pacquiao, whom he sincerely called a great, philanthropic sportsman.
* * *
When the shrill of the referee’s whistle called an end to the game, a giant Philippine flag rose, swayed on a silken swoon in the December evening air.
Filipino fans, visibly feeling more victorious and rewarded than the visitors, were seen unfurling pennants and flashing the victory sign.
Maybe it was plain coincidence that Beckham made a confirmation of Pacquiao’s all-time greatness following the questioned result of his last fight in Las Vegas.
However, if the presence of Beckham and his Galaxy teammates worked like a benediction, it should be not only on Philippine football but on local sports as a whole.
By playing hard and honoring the Azkals with a tough, hard game, Beckham & Co. also sent the message that Filipino athletes can go a long way.
Of course, it goes without saying that, for the promise of greatness to be fulfilled, our athletes must be able to stay away from national playing fields fertilized by selfishness and incompetence of self-styled sports leaders.
Otherwise, Beckham’s visit and inspiring game would ring meaningless, like an empty religious blessing.
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