Friday, October 14, 2011

Fair Play: Now it's the Malditas turn to shine

(This is my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu on Oct. 15)
So the Azkals campaign for 2011 is over, but fret not fans, there’s a lot of football left for us.

First off, of course, are the Malditas, who will be competing with Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia in Group B of the AFF women’s championships starting this weekend.

Who are the Malditas? They are our women’s national football team and if you’re wondering why they are called the Malditas, it’s the name the players picked for themselves.

I met a few members of the team in Manila last July 28 and if not for a massive hangover, I could have done a few interviews. But I did get to talk for a few moments with coach Ernie Nierras, the man behind the Malditas.

Coach Nierras is a feisty one, a coach who’s willing to take the hit for his team and it’s quite understandable because he’s been with the squad since everybody’s idea of an askal was the one we shoo on the streets.

The team’s record in the 2009 edition of the AFF women’s championships is abysmal, but I don’t think we can use a national team’s past failure as a gauge to how it will perform this year.

Besides, the other national teams performance have all gone up a notch since the Azkals raised the profile of football in the country. Though none of the U17 or U19 teams showing rivaled the Azkals, at least the image of a Philippine team in the international game—even in youth football have changed.

I hope the Malditas can—as the cliché goes—keep the ball rolling.

Although one website rankled coach NIerras—if you have no idea who he is, he’s the guy who coached the Stallions to a 3-2 win over Global FC in the UFL Cup--by saying the Philippines is expected to fall to the bottom in Group B, I don't think the team will.

You know why? Because while most of the fans’ focus were on the Azkals, this team has been quietly training hard all these months, so this is no rag-tag band of footballers.

The team will be led by captain Marielle Benitez, who sometimes joins the discussion panel in Azkal matches, while the other members are Maria Del Carmen, Louella Amamio, Isabella Fernando, Samantha Nierras, Jowee-ann Barruga, Marice Magdolot, Nikki Regalado, Natasha Alquiros, Joma Clemente, Betina Yang, Inna Palacios, Kathleen Rodriguez, Aisa Mondero, Zipporah Luna and Metillo Angel, US-based Patrice Impelido and Heather Cooke and Germany-based Cristina Keuter and Lorrene Jalina.  The alternates are Jane Pacana and Marie Magdolot.

Aside from the players who came from abroad, most of the players are from Manila, with Jalina as the lone exception from Bacolod.

As expected, none from Cebu made the team because women’s football here is back to square one after achieving a height just a few years ago. One school, University of San Carlos, even offered football scholarships for female footballers, a first here.

The Azkals success and popularity have led to a lot of female followers of Philippine football and I hope the Malditas can do one further, and get these new football fans to play the game.

And no, playing football doesn’t make a woman a tomboy.

The team will face Myanmar tomorrow on Monday, 2009 runner-up Thailand on Tuesday Wednesday and Malaysia on Friday.

Good luck Malditas, show our Asean neighbors what Philippine women’s football is all about!

DELAYED UFL DEBUT. Now that the UFL has turned down Cebu Queen City’s protest against Pachanga (the UFL said it was just a complaint, not a protest, since no match was played and they returned the P2,500 fee) I hope the Cebu team can now turn its full attention to its UFL debut—against dangerous Global FC on Sunday.

After a disastrous opening game against Pachanga, Global will try its hardest to prove that it’s still best team in the UFL Cup and it will prove it against Cebu.

And, of course, that game will be coach Graeme Mackinnon’s first in the UFL so this Sunday Ceburoo, as he is known in cyber space, will try his hardest to get that three points.

So to Global FC and Queen City, may the best team, wins, though a draw, I think, wouldn’t be that bad, right Sir Dan?

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