Monday, May 30, 2011

Fair Play: A blast from the past

I MET two of my most favorite Azkal players over lunch—Alexander Borromeo and Emilio “Chieffy” Caligdong—during a lunch with the team at The Port just last Saturday.

I like the two because they were with the team when this whole football turnaround started, in the Tiger Cup 2004 in Malaysia. For me, that was when this renaissance started, and it culminated in that unforgettable night in Vietnam.

Chieffy, Ali, Anton del Rosario, Chris Greatwich, Roel Gener and Ian Araneta are the only members left of that squad, which also had Chad Gould (who had to leave this year’s tryouts due to an infection), Michael Casas (making his international debut as an 18-year-old starter) and Ariel Zerrudo, who for me, will always be remembered as the guy who missed a golden opportunity to score first against Thailand.

I didn’t expect much from that team, considering in the 2002 Tiger Cup, we conceded 24 goals in 4 losses and scored only three.

But things changed in 2004. And for the life of me, I forgot to ask Chieffy and Ali how they did it.

Aris Caslib, the then coach of the team, told me after the tournament, “We were able to play decently, it is a remarkable improvement and totally different from the previous teams, ngayon lang siya (then PFF president Johnny Romualdez) nakakita ng team na willing magpakamatay.”

And it is the willingness to give their all on the pitch that has endeared the team to Pinoys—fans and non-fans alike.

Against Myanmar, the team conceded an injury time goal to lose, 1-0, and against Malaysia, Casas stopped a penalty but the team still lost, 4-1, with Gould scoring off a diving header in his debut.

But it was against Timor Leste that the never-say-die attitude was shown and Chieffy was right in the thick of things. Still trailing, 1-0, Chieffy scored the equalizer in the 89th and the go-ahead goal in the 93rd.

“Grabe gid to,” Chieffy said when I asked him about those two goals. “Feed to ni Ali, duha ka flick headers.”

It was because of that game that, for the first time, me and the two other football fans in the office then, had high hopes for the last match against Thailand.

It was also the first time that a Philippine football sort of became a unifying factor as the two fans—who had a disagreement over a Pacquiao fight—hadn’t talked, or even looked at each other, prior that Thailand match.

We all shouted at Zerrudo for his miss in the 14th minute—taking a harried shot when he had no defender in the penalty box—and we were all shouting like crazy when Chieffy scored in the 27th minute.

“Pwede nako mamatay! 1-0 against Thailand!” I remember screaming.

We lost that one, of course, and we had so many heartbreaks and disappointmentss—on and off the field—since that day. Even I lost interest in the team, disappointed by the political intramurals of the PFF.

But all of that changed in December last year.

And I was very glad that Ali and Chieffy, and Anton, Ian, Gener and that spunky Chris Greatwich all got to savor it, to walk off a football giant’s home field, as the winner.

They certainly earned it for what they started almost seven years ago.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE. I try to avoid writing about European football because I feel I don’t have enough knowledge to give it justice, but I lost a bet.

Well, what can I say? It was wrong to bet against the football genius that is Roy Moore. The majestic Barcelona played such fluid football that it broke gender stereotypes. Their dominance over Manchester United was so complete that the Barcelona B team would have probably stood a better chance of touching the ball.

Roy is also the coach of Payatas FC and Kasiglahan FC, which brings football to underprivileged kids, and also did the Tweetcast during the Challenge Cup matches. Smart loved it so much that he’s been asked to do the same for the World Cup qualifiers in Sri Lanka. To follow the tweetcast, just follow “roymondous” on Twitter.

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