Saturday, June 04, 2011

Fair Play: Azkals' Super Lolo calls it quits at 38

I HAD something lined up for today, a column I was about to finish but something came up, something big that I had to disregard the draft.

And no it wasn’t Maria Sharapova losing in the French Open semifinals the other night to Li Na.

It is, to a certain degree, a much bigger loss.

I learned just last Thursday that Yanti Barsales, my favorite Azkal, is calling it quits in international football. He will no longer don the Azkal jersey and instead concentrate on one more year for the Air Force riders, which just won the recent UFL title.

“I’m tired,” he told Roy Moore of Pinoyfootball.com. “I’ve spoken to Dan Palami about it but at 38, I’m struggling.”

To be 38 and to be with the Azkals takes a lot of sterner stuff and Yanti, christened Abuelo, or Lolo, by Spain-based Angel Aldeguer, could teach those Johnny-come-latelies a thing or two about toughness. And humility.

I saw the play that endeared Yanti to a lot of new fans and I can honestly say, even the bigger strikers decades younger would shirk at it.

After getting a nifty pass, the ball was right smack in between Yanti and the Myanmar keeper. Yanti tried a lob and succeeded, catching the ball with a nifty shot that got past the Myanmar keeper but only to be foiled by the presence of mind of a defender.

The keeper tried a dirty play and succeeded, planting a foot on Yanti’s face, neck and chest, earning a red card in the process.

Because of the vicious tackle, Yanti never saw where his attempt hit.

Roy quoted fellow football fan/chronicler Craig Burrows, “I will never forget the moment that Yanti was stretched off the pitch in Burma. He raised his head and did not ask about his serious injuries but just asked what happened for the team.”

If you followed the Tweetcast of the Azkals match then you know Craig; his was the account Roy Moore used for the Tweetcast.

If you saw highlights of the match over ABS-CBN, then I’m sure Craig Burrows caught your attention. He was that Caucasian, wearing a bandanna with the country’s colors screaming, “PHILIPPINES!!! PHILIPPINES!!!”

I saw Yanti again last Saturday Friday and unfortunately, I failed to bring the Suzuki Cup jersey that has the signatures of the other Azkals, since his and Chieffy Caligdong’s signatures are what I wanted to add to it.


And, as usual, he was just his quiet self, letting the others soak up the attention.

There was this one player, who I won’t name (because truth be told, I really am not sure who he was) who I thought seemed to have taken the “star” a wee bit more seriously in “football star.”

That guy hasn’t even played a minute of done anything in international football, and there was Yanti, who’s played for the national team when El Tabako was still president, just sitting quietly. (If you don’t know who El Tabako is, that makes what Yanti has done more amazing.)

Of all the Azkals who I want to see in the World Cup qualifiers, Yanti was my lone wish to get his spot. I thought it would be poetic justice for Yanti to walk on the field, in front of 20,000 screaming Pinoy football fans in a World Cup qualifiers because of what he has done.

And especially because he’s only one of two men who have scored a goal the last time the Philippines joined World Cup qualifiers, in 2001 for the 2002 edition. To have done that and to be still at this level speaks volumes of the man.

The Azkals will have an exhibition match against the UFL All-Stars tomorrow and fans are organizing some sort of a tribute. I hope the PFF and the Azkals get in the act, too.

Tribute matches are a new thing in Philippine football, and so is fan awareness of the sport.

I hope the guy who helped raised that, Super Lolo, gets his due, tomorrow, and the fact that he probably wishes nobody pays attention to him makes it more meaningful.

Thank you, Yanti, and as the guys and gals are saying online: Much respect.

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