Riding the Azkals fever-A A +A
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
COVERING (and cheering) the Philippine football team Azkals for the first time on home soil can never be this good.
Sitting on the same bench with more experienced sportswriters and an editor of the country's leading broadsheet, I was unable to help but clap and sometimes jump with gusto.
After all, it is our national team that has prepared so hard to accomplish a feat that its predecessors tried but failed to do: hurdle the first round of the World Cup qualifiers.
The game went on as scheduled at 3:30 p.m. last July 3 as the multitude of people at the refurbished Rizal Memorial Stadium anxiously waited to see the Azkals devour the Brave Reds after drawing them 1-1 in Colombo last June 29.
While people got ecstatic as the names of the starting 11 were announced, the Fil-foreigners who comprise the bulk of the team joined them in singing the national anthem.
I am just not sure if they were able to memorize the lines well, except maybe for aspiring Tagalog speaker, striker Phil Younghusband.
What I only knew is that team manager Dan Palami then challenged the Europe and US-based players to learn the song to the letter. Did they pass? Hopefully yes.
Soon after the game started, players and fans spread across the bleacher seats were practically soaked in rainwater.
The weather forecast said it would be partly cloudly but it didn't matter anyway: the audience and, most importantly, the boys braved the downpour just to deliver what was expected them.
And deliver they did, rain or shine.
During the brief rainshower, attacking midfielder Chieffy Caligdong scored the first goal in the 19th minute to the delight of the 13,000-strong crowd.
Even German coach Michael Weiss had to rush to Caligdong, the only pure-blooded Filipino in the cast, after that feat. Goalie Neil Etheridge also left his unglamorous spot just to join the two-minute celebration.
Younghusband, meanwhile, made the second goal in the 43rd minute, which was not immediately granted after an assistant referee thought that he committed an infraction on a Sri Lankan defender.
But the fans insisted, as they mightily shouted "2-0" a couple of times.
The senior Korean referee overruled the initial whistle and the crowd went mad anew at the close of the first half.
Friendly tip, qualms
Most of the time, my annoyed colleagues and I were forced to stand up to get a better view of the game since we were assigned at the first line of the "House seat" section of the stadium.
A reporter who writes for a sports and lifestyle website had to plead "Excuse me (*insert mad face*)" for the nth time to enthusiastic spectators, including one policeman to give us a full view of the game.
Friendly tip: It's better to watch the game at the upper grandstand if you wish to spare yourself from passing spectators and vendors from accredited concessionaires.
Cheers and shrieks erupted in every possession as well as during the Azkals' 22 near goal chances. That was about the time we also held our collective breath.
During the 15-minute break, people still cheered and proceeded to make their respective halftime analyses.
I overheard that the Azkals, who gained prominence for making it to the semis of the Asean Suzuki Cup last year, have to firm up their defense to avert a second half meltdown while another fan said: "No, the second round is in the bag."
Not content with an aggregate 3-1 score after the first 45 minutes, Fil-Spanish Angel Guirado and Younghusband nailed the last two goals in the 50th and 56th minute, respectively, as the weary Sri Lankans limped in frustration.
"They never had a chance," a Sri Lankan fan sheepishly said.
On the other hand, the sea of blue-clad supporters waved their hands in awe and passed a giant Philippine flag, which really made us feel prouder at that moment.
The jubilant and teary-eyed Azkals felt the same way too as they relish the moment of finally advancing to another two-leg series against Kuwait on July 23 and July 28 in Manila.
They surveyed and thanked the crowd after the match, gamefully posed for pictures at their victory dinner in the posh Manila Diamond Hotel and accommodated queries from the press.
Meanwhile, a source said that at least 250 people who wished to watch the games for free as "media" failed to secure accreditation due to limited slots.
But it is not something the organizers have to feel bad anyway. The source said most of them are writers from virtually unknown blog sites.
"We really just have to accommodate legitimate media outfits as much as possible. The problem with some of those who put up a site and pose themselves as media is that they lack the journalistic skills, the ethics required of the job," the source said.
At the end of the day, people who spent thousands of pesos to get that precious ticket either from Ticketworld or scalpers (others reportedly sold P200-passes for P1,000 each) went home with a smile on their faces.
Cheering at the top of their lungs was never a problem since the team deserved a much-needed boost.
Indeed, last Sunday's match was excellence promised and excellence delivered in a style that made everyone proud of being a Filipino once more. (Sunnex)