Monday, April 4, 2011

Wins, losses, and the World Cup : The Azkals and the Philippines as a football country

This first appeared in the award winning sports blog, Fire Quinito.

Next up for the Azkals is the small matter of trying to qualify for the FIFA World Cup 2014 in Brazil, a competition that we all but ignored prior to the Azkals coming to fore. 

But first things first: Make no mistake, we are NOT going to win the World Cup. Not by any stretch of the imagination. 

We can however, attempt to qualify for it, first by beating Sri Lanka in the first round. 

Interestingly, manager Dan Palami has signified his intention to form the Azkals “dream team.” Not satisfied with luring Angel Guirado and Jerry Lucena to the Azkals, he could possibly bring on board right back Stephan Schrock, of Bundesliga 2nd division side SpVgg Greuther F├╝rth, a Bavarian side which has consistently finished in the top half of the Bundesliga 2nd division table in the last ten years. Schrock is a bona fide Fil-European with footballing pedigree and will be of immense help to the Azkals. 

If Dan gets everybody on board, we could potentially have this starting eleven:






Coming off the bench would be Anton del Rosario, Dennis Cagara, Roel Gener, Simon Greatwich, Jerry Lucena, Ian Araneta, Jason Sabio and Yanti Barsales. 

Quite a formidable line-up, don’t you think? It has a bit of everything, from attacking prowess, to speedy wingers who can deliver the ball, to a very stingy defense.
The underlying problem of course, would be team chemistry. How would all these players get on the same page on the pitch? Just as importantly, can the respective egos be left at the door? Can the manager get it right?

We all know one of the reasons for the success of the Azkals in last year’s Suzuki Cup was the camaraderie between the players. We could never underestimate that importance on the pitch.

There is also a fear among some football people that should we be drawn in these qualifiers against a very strong team, we could be annihilated by a baseball score, which would turn off some new fans of the game. No one would want to root for a loser, right?


We root for a team knowing that it tried its very best, even in defeat to a superior team. We would not want to root for a team that concedes defeat even before a match has been played. We root for a team that even in defeat fights tooth and nail for every possession, for every loose ball.

In short, we won’t mind losing, as long as we lost leaving our guts on the pitch. Wanting to qualify for the World Cup signifies our intention to go beyond our Southeast Asian borders. It’s something we need to do in order to succeed in that goal.

But beyond the wins and losses, we should also cherish how sports in general, and football in particular, unite people of different races, religion and nationalities. This is best demonstrated by this picture of the Azkals before the team’s tune-up game against the Kanto Gakuin University team.

Azkals in Japan

Another very noteworthy example of this unity was after we played Palestine in the group stages. Here is what Football Palestine Blog had to say: 

“Let me start off by saying that the outpouring of support on Twitter from followers of Pinoy Football has been immense. In the past 24 hours our following has increased by nearly 40% thanks to passionate Azkal fans. A couple of years ago, the Philippines were regarded as a footballing non-factor. I can say that they are now very much a side (and a fan base) that should be taken seriously. They remind me of ourselves when we made our re-appearance on FIFA's stage. Everyone thought we would be whipping boys but we played with passion. Ramzi Saleh (much like Neil Etheridge) in goal kept us in games and we bloodied a couple of noses on the way. I wish the Azkals the best of luck and although we are almost assured of qualification (see below) I hope the Fursan lend the Azkals a helping hand.”

Let me respond with this: We wish Palestine the best of luck. Till we meet again next year at the AFC Challenge Cup! 
This is what football is all about. Respect among opponents, and respect among fans. No taunting and badmouthing between players and fans alike.

It is all but confirmed now, and the symptoms are for all to see: We are all well and truly afflicted with football-itis, with an added strain of Azkal-itis. It’s an affliction that we’d happily share with anyone in this country, and one that I personally have no intention of seeking a cure. 

For the Azkals, the journey continues. For us Azkal fans, we are only starting the journey. And what a journey it is going to be.

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