Villaflor: The problem with pundits-A A +A
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
A COUPLE of hours after watching the match in an uptown sports bar, I traipsed into the office building, wearing a huge grin and a replica of the old away jersey that brought with it the scent of cigarettes fellow Azkals fans near me had puffed nervously during the entire telecast.
From the basement, on the stairs, and right into the newsroom, every soul I encountered had one thing to say to me: Pildi ang Azkals, bai sa?
“Lagi!” I’d say with a happy face. My reaction to the “bad news” would elicit a series of baffled expressions, which I bet was feigned.
Of course they already knew the Azkals have advanced to the qualifying group stage of the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup in Myanmar after winning the two-leg qualifying playoffs against Mongolia, 3-2 on aggregate. The news was all over the place – on TV, on Facebook, on Twitter. I suspect they wanted to gauge how upset I was over the Azkals’ loss to a “much more inferior team.”
I was more than glad to indulge their curiosity. Nothing turns my spring more than a round or two of football chitchat. I’d tell them it was a good result despite the loss. The boys did enough to advance, and that’s enough reason to celebrate.
One asked me why we lost. Someone answered for me: it was the extreme cold, saying he read it from the players’ tweets, how the subzero conditions affected their mobility.
At the sports bar minutes after the match telecast wrapped up, the father of a former Under-19 player who had trained in subzero conditions related how freezing temperatures felt like. According to his son, a goalkeeper, the body would just turn numb and the simplest of tasks such as catching a ball becomes painful. And during shot stopping, his dives were several inches shorter than in regular weather. It’s difficult to breathe, especially when there’s a breeze.
That’s why some of the players covered half their faces with scarves when they entered the pitch, the goalie’s dad explained to me. He pointed out how windy it was. The ball, when being lined up on the artificial turf for a free kick, wouldn’t stay put because of the breeze. The turf itself was green as real grass, but in the background a squat mountain is blanketed with snow.
Several Azkals players sent online messages to fans apologizing for the loss. Chieffy was said to have run a fever moments after the match. Phil sustained a hamstring injury. Did the extreme weather take its toll on their bodies? You tell me.
The lousy telecast--thanks to the cameraman who had no clue with what he was doing--
was painful to watch. Poorer still was how the Azkals played for much of the game.
There’s no palpable way to show the effects of the cold on the away players’ mobility.
One must take the players’ word for it, then: that Ulan Bator was cold as hell.
Is the biting cold a valid excuse for playing so badly? Some pundits think otherwise.
Nonsense, they would say. Weiss should have put this player in that position, Neil would have stopped that shot, that forward shouldn’t be in the first 11 ever again, the back line was too high, losing is unacceptable.
Yet I wonder what would make these pundits happy?
For many of us fans, what we saw last Tuesday was a team that came to Mongolia to finish the job. With an attacking mindset, they played to win against a team that had the same thing in mind. In the end, the game was pure entertainment, and the Azkals advanced. Isn’t that enough reason to celebrate?
In Myanmar, the Azkals face an entirely different scenario that is less daunting, at least on paper. But while the weather would be much kinder this time around, I doubt if the most level-headed of fans would be.
As the highest-ranked team, the Azkals are expected to top the group. And they must.
What better way for the team to prove they’re not the type to fabricate excuses. And to silence the pundits, even for once.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 17, 2011.