(Published in my column 'From My Viewpoint' at Viewliner Weekly News October 20-26, 2014 Issue)
Next year, it will be a decade since the Philippine Men’s National Football Team adopted the moniker ‘Azkals,’ a move that gave birth to the filipino football revolution. That’s been ten years ago, and in a decade’s time many things have changed for the better in Philippine football, like how the pinoys made ‘Azkals’ a household term. In the game itself, our country gained a measurable improvements; from an underdog team ranked 191st to 134th as of this month. The highest they got in history was 127th which happened in 2013.
At present, the Philippine Azkals have the honor of being dubbed as the best team in South East Asia, yet, most Filipinos does not seem to appreciate. Unlike their basketball counterparts, the Gilas Pilipinas won the Most Valuable Fans Award in the recent 2014 Basketball World Cup, the Azkals are playing Manila home games in front of a nearly empty stadium.
Many believed that what is ought to be done is to transfer the home games outside Metro Manila, like in Bacolod or in Cebu, where there resides a huge chunk of Pinoy football fans. While I admit that the move may be noble, I believe it will not address the issue on the losing popularity of the national team and the sport in the entirety of the Philippine archipelago.
Football (officially ‘Association Football’ or ‘Soccer’ as known in the US) is the world’s most popular sport, played by 250 million players in over 200 countries. It is arguably the predecessor of other popular sports such as rugby union and american football. The game is governed internationally by the organization FIFA which organizes the Football World Cup every four years. It has a high level of popularity among our country’s Southeast Asian neighbors, yet here it is highly overshadowed by basketball.
Football had a glimpse of popularity in 2010 when the team qualified for the Asian Football Federation Suzuki Cup and was undefeated in the group stage and went on defeating then champions and hosts Vietnam, becoming one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament and underdog story in the sporting world. The Azkals eventually lost to Indonesia in the knockout stage, yet it won the respect of the football community in Asia.
And so the Azkals popularity began. Fans suddenly flocked in home games, mostly women screaming their hearts out for the national team. In an instant, team members became poster boys and the filipino football community became patriotic.
Many have put their faith in filipino football ... but not many have remained faithful, hence, this sad write up.
At present, it appears that the Azkals phenomenon was a mere good thing in the past. The cheering crowds waving Philippine flags in 2010 was replaced by empty seats. Filling the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium into full is next to impossible as the former faithfuls have lost faith to their country team and to the wonderful sport. Just recently, the Azkals had one of their biggest victories, a 5-nil against Papua New Guinea before a handful of Filipino supporters.
Confidence of critics and haters suddenly went into an all time high. Tonguelashing the Azkals who were unfortunately conceived with foreign genetics, and claiming that the sport is not for the Filipinos as it lacks excitement compared to others.
All of a sudden, there appeared from nowhere a multitude of reasons to give up and accept the fact that the filipino world cup dream is but a dream.
I refuse to give up.
The often criticism about the team is with regard to their ‘foreign players.’ With due respect to the haters, but they are actually not foreign but true blue Filipinos as naturalization while allowed in FIFA is not actually favored by most member coutries. It was never their fault to be born with a set of parents whose nationalities are different.
If you will ask me, they are actually the real patriotic ones. They turned their backs in their other country, only to play in an inferior national team that we have. And mind you, these people are not less skilled, to name a few, brothers Phil and James Younghusband are both from the famous Chelsea Football Club prior being in the Azkals, Neil Etheridge experienced playing for the youth team of England before deciding to play for the Azkals, Stephan Schrock is one of Germany’s best mid-fielders yet he decided to play for the Filipinos, and Fil-German Denis Wolf is actually a football star in Bundesliga league in Germany when he made a decision to play for his mother’s country.
They are the real heroes not only of the sport, but also of Filipino pride.
People especially filipinos have a lot to learn about football. Not only its rules and skills, but likewise also its discipline and emotion.
While all sports have passion for winning, the one in football is quite different from all the others. The difficulty of putting up a single score does redefine the term ‘goal.’ No wonder that in FIFA World Cup events, a football goal is a cause for a nation’s celebration.
In football, every single goal is a group effort for there can never be a one man play, and it is one reason why I refuse to believe that the sport is not for Filipinos. I know very well for a fact, that the word ‘bayanihan’ has no foreign translation, and the only way we can show the world its meaning is through our actions. Which sport then will best exemplfy the trait.
Even history disagree with the statement that football is not for Filipinos. One of the greatest legend in the sport is actually a Filipino in the person of Paulino Alcantara. He remains to be the youngest player to play and score for the european club Barcelona, he finished his career in the said team with 369 goals in 357 games.
The Azkals brought back our country in the football map in 2010, and we are actually still visible therein except for our countrymen. Sadly, the Azkals phenomenon has lost the intensity of its yesteryears, yet not all is lost for there are still people like me who shall remain believers of Filipino football. Philippines in the World Cup may not happen in our lifetime, but there is no reason for me not to believe it will be a reality.
For the love of the sport, and the love of the country. These are the reasons why I shall never give up on the Philippine Azkals. And when I say love, I refer to genuine love, not love motivated by a mere fad.
The Philippine Azkals is not the best team there is, but it is my only country team. And for the love of my country I shall remain faithful to the world cup dream. So help me God.
Often recalcitrant, but always principled.