We are on the way there-A A +A
Sunday, September 30, 2012
Would you believe it? When the Philippine Azkals grabbed the championship in the Paulino Alcantara Peace Cup Saturday evening, it was the first international football tournament that we won in 99 years! It was also the first ever win of any of our teams against Chinese Taipei in the last nineteen years.
Soccer is one of the premier sports in Asia and in Europe, and while our neighbors in the region have been going crazy over the sport, we have literally been left years behind.
There was a period during the ’60s when it was about to catch on. I was in high school then and here in Negros the premier schools which had strong teams were Silliman University in Dumaguete, Don Bosco Technical Institute in Victorias, and La Salle and UNO-R in Bacolod.
The ’60s was the time that we had a deluge of Koreans enrolling in our agricultural colleges and universities. Then as now, soccer was very popular in Korea and a lot of their enrollees here were excellent soccer players. Their brand and level of excellence in the sport rubbed off on our own athletes and, for a while, it seemed that soccer would finally overtake basketball in the Philippines.
Unfortunately, it was not to be. The ’60s also happened to be the time that the National Collegiate Athletic Association or NCAA produced iconic players like Francis Arnaiz, Robert Jaworski, Big Boy Reynoso and a host of basketball players from La Salle and Ateneo. The fierce rivalry between these two collegiate teams had the whole country go gaga over basketball. This was followed by the Metropolitan Inter-Commercial Athletic Association (MICAA), the precursor of our present Professional Basketball Association (PBA). The rivalry of these collegiate stars spilled over to the high-paying and highly televised basketball tournaments and soccer was swamped almost to extinction.
In spite of basketball's popularity, almost everyone agreed that with our lack of height and heft the Philippines will never produce a world champion team. In the same breath these same people will grudgingly admit that in soccer, we have a better chance in the international sports arena. It was just that the sport was not popular and not commercially profitable.
I don't know who came up with the name "Azkals," the meaning of which evokes both sympathy and something very Pinoy, but coupled with the team's fine showing in last year's Suzuki Cup and the star appeal of many of its players—quite literally all of a sudden everyone was talking and breathing football. All of a sudden soccer was pulled out of the dustbin, movie stars were hitching up with the Azkals and in just a year's time the level of play of Philippine football shot up and two days ago we won our first international tournament in 99 years.
Of course we still have a steep climb towards international acclaim. As of last ranking we are only 150th in the world. It will probably take several more generations before we can claim to be really "world-class." But never mind that. The important thing is that we are now serious about football; we are now crazy over a sport where we have a better-than-even chance to be great and the team which will win for the country the world championship is gestating its way toward that dream. We are on the way there.
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on October 01, 2012.