Sunday, June 10, 2012

Fair Play: Let's stop babying the Azkals

(This is the draft of my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu on June 11)
IT SEEMS some interesting things are still happening online because of that 2-2 draw against Indonesia at the Rizal Memorial Stadium last week, and one of the talking points is the criticisms the team got because it drew a match it was dominating.

I really don’t agree with most of the criticisms because it was a friendly and we just drew Indonesia but I don’t agree, too, how the critics are being pictured as folks in high horses who heap added burden to the players with their unreasonable demands.

Now that’s pretty unfair because no matter what these critics say about the 2-2 draw, for those 90 minutes against Indonesia they were there screaming their hearts out for the Azkals.

While I was happy that the team that we once feared now fear us, and were contented to fight to a draw, I don’t think it was too much for some to expect that we beat them. 

And besides, the Azkals are the national football team, not the national untouchable team and we can’t keep on babying the players.  The one-year honeymoon the team got after Vietnam was enough and if they make a mistake, they deserved to be told, bluntly.

The Azkals, too, have to learn there’s a difference between a cynic and a critic and that just because fans are criticizing a result doesn’t mean they’ll forever abandon the squad.  They’ll be there, through thick and thin, supporting the squad, and hopefully, to criticize them when needed.

They are fans, not robots pre-programmed to talk about the positive when all they want is a chance to air their gripe.

This “let’s not be critical” approach has some negative repercussions on some players, particularly locals, who I’ve heard are starting to resent fans--why is it when locals make mistake it’s open season for criticisms but when those based abroad do, there’s next to nothing?

While the writer of the article, “Azkal fans need to stay positive” was unhappy with the criticisms, I am.  Because for me, that’s a sign that we have reached a new level in the support for football—there’s a national discussion on the sport and like all great discussions, this one is not a one-way street.

Besides, did you know what happened the last time criticisms were hurled at the team during a series of friendlies?  They got their first medal.

So guys—whether you agree with each or not—keep on talking.  You all play a part.

The Azkals next match will be against Guam, and while Coach Michael Weiss has said he will still field his strongest lineup against the lowly-ranked team, I’m hoping he’d give the starting jobs to guys like Ian Araneta, Ed Sacapano and other locals who have stuck with the team.

It would be a while when these guys would get the chance to play for the flag in front of their kababayans against a team that is not relatively strong and making them start is for me, a just reward.

But, that’s just me.

FRENCH OPEN. In the past few years, when folks like Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, Caroline Wozniacki, and even Dinara Safina were dominating the game, and former retirees like Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters got their itch for competition back, Maria Sharapova was sometimes, reduced to being an afterthought in women’s tennis.

Well, not anymore.

Safina and Henin are retired, Clijsters is retiring, Ivanovic, is well, just another pretty face, Jankovic loses as much as she wins, while Wozniacki could be now known as that former No. 1 who never won a slam.

As for Sharapova? 

She’s again the face of women’s tennis after climbing her way back to No. 1—from as low as 126 a couple of years ago—and completing a career Grand Slam in the French Open.

As to Wimbledon and the US Open? Hmmm, go get ‘em, Maria.

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