Villaflor: Rooting for nothing?-A A +A
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
SECONDS after kickoff, an expatriate standing to my right asked me what my team was.
“Italy,” I said without hesitation. The Irish-themed pub somewhere in Talamban was
filled to the brim, and I was one of the dozens watching the broadcast outdoors.
Even if he didn’t ask, I was tempted to tell him why – that while Spain were still the favorites to win their second straight European championship, my support for the Azurri was a small gesture of thanks for the Italian coaches who helped train our very own Little Azkals in Palermo last summer.
The Philippines squad, I wanted to share, had an impressive performance in the U-14 Youth Football Festival in Osaka, Japan last month, and perhaps Italy’s new brand of attacking football must have rubbed off on our boys, hence an unprecedented third place finish in the tournament, next only to Japan and Indonesia.
But the agitated voice of the commentator, who was trying to catch up with the frenetic pace of the Euro final that was broadcast live from Kiev, snapped me out of my reverie.
Seeing how Spain didn’t waste time dictating the tempo of the match and forcing the Italians to dig deep in their trenches, I returned the question to the expat and asked him who he was rooting for.
“I don’t care, really,” he said with a drawl. “I’m French.”
“Oh,” I said, tempted to remind him of the score line between France and Spain in the quarterfinal, but I held back against it. He and few of his countrymen in the pub were just trying to enjoy a final that had history written on it even before its conclusion. One of them even quipped that he’d welcome a goal from Spain because this would result in an “open game.”
Sure enough, on the 14th minute, “strikerless” Spain scored its first, after Cesc Fabregas whipped a cross back to David Silva, who flicked a scorching header past a helpless Gianluigi Buffon.
It turned into an open game, all right, but a lopsided one for the quicker, more mercurial Spaniards. In the 41st minute, La Furia added another goal from a Xavi-Jordi partnership. Spain added two more down the stretch from Torres and Mata. (The first two wondergoals would have made my high school and college buddy Dax Barcenas drunk with joy, but he missed them because he had to drive all the way from Talisay City to the pub, joining me only at halftime.)
A Spanish victory wasn’t unexpected, wasn’t unsurprising. But a 4-0 win against dangerous Italy in a European Football Championship final by a team that just a semifinal ago was dismissed as “tired,” “uninspired” and “not hungry” should make every non-Spanish football nation wonder from which universe the La Furia play.
I tried to empathize with the French, the Portuguese and the invisible Italians who were at the pub that Monday dawn, until I realized that their teams were actually light years ahead than the team I am really rooting for.
I’m talking about the Philippine national football team, of course, and the French man’s words – “I don’t care, really” – suddenly hit home.
A Cebuano football buff, at the early stages of Euro 2012, asked me the same question the French man asked of me, but that time, I actually gave the right answer.
“What’s your team?”
“The Azkals,” I said half-serious, half-joking.
That annoyed my friend somewhat, because in previous Euro and World Cup competitions, I found it all too easy to say England, or Spain, or the Netherlands.
That’s what it was. I realized I no longer “really” cared which team would win, if it wasn’t “my squad” that was playing. I was watching Euro 2012 as a mere football fan hungry for a good game of top-class football.
Let me say in hindsight that at an Irish-themed pub somewhere in Talamban in the unholy hours of July 2, I was rooting for football to win. And I guess it did.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 05, 2012.