SINCE the Fifa World Cup in South Africa began, colleagues at work have been talking about how the games turned out a few hours earlier. Most of New Zealand stayed awake (live telecasts were shown at 1:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m.) when the national team, referred to as the All Whites and ranked 78th in the world, gave decent performances, actually the best ever for a team made up of professionals and part-time players who surprisingly gelled in their short incubation period.

In this sports-mad country, the players have earned for themselves places in the Pantheon of the Finest Athletes.

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Not to be left out in the exchanges, I struggled to wake up and view some of the games and was somewhat disappointed by scores like 0-0 or in waiting so long to shout, “Goal.” I am not a soccer fan, but I am working to appreciate the sport better.

There have been slips coming out of some games-–cheating and bad acting among players and lousy officiating by referees. And there is the refusal of the governing body to adopt modern technology for more accuracy in officiating and scoring.

I randomly picked the following teams: New Zealand, Korea (both North and South), Germany and USA, to make good showing. One by one, these teams stumbled, and co-worker Mohammed Shaheed, who knows the game, would come over to my table to tell me how he pitied the defeat of my teams. Of course, it didn’t hurt any, for I don’t know much of the teams anyway.

Another co-employee, Nilson Gieger, a German, knows most of the tournament’s star players, rattling out names such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Kaka and Wayne Rooney. He thought the German team wasn’t at its best because younger players had replaced injured veterans. But when the Germans took down their opponents, he started to believe, only that Spain stoned-walled them from the finals.

On July 11, the Fifa Soccer World Cup 2010 final will pit Spain with Netherlands. Uruguay will seek third place against Germany a day earlier. Do not take my prediction seriously, but Spain may raise the 6-kilogram, 18-carat gold trophy after the game.

Why bet on Spain? The team is one of the best in passing, which was demonstrated during the match against Germany.

But more importantly, I find an attachment to Spain as most of us Filipinos have Iberian blood in us. If not for basketball and the US, Filipinos would have been playing soccer and pelota until now. Have you not noticed that most of those who bankroll football tournaments in the country are Spanish mestizos?

Soccer has become a truly global sport. It draws fans all over the world and creates superstars out of South America, Africa and Europe. Kids from deserts, from remote villages and squatter colonies dream of becoming the next Cristiano Ronaldo.

Nike and Adidas turn in big profits in the months leading to the World Cup.

And it is the game that best fits the Filipino physical structure. We refuse to accept the fact that we will never be among the finest basketball players in the world. But why has soccer become the phenomenon that it is? It is the least costly: have a ball and start kicking, and you’ve got game.

In New Zealand, Filipino kids (like those of our family friends Boy and Pat Amiscua) have settled for soccer, as they are not big enough for rugby or tall enough for basketball. They are also not interested in cricket.

If only a grassroots campaign for soccer---like the one successfully implemented in Cebu for dance sport---is pursued, who knows the Philippines may have a chance to shine. North Korea made some dent while the small nation New Zealand took the big guns by surprise. Why can’t we do so, too?