Friday, November 30, 2012

Fair Play: Azkals, Malditas and baby steps

(This is my column for Dec. 1, so don't be confused with references regarding 'last night' etc.---ML)

TWO years ago, after getting sick of the football politics, I stopped writing about the sport and focused on others. But on Dec. 5, 2010, I wrote what turned out to be the first of many after the Philippines' amazing draw with Singapore in the 2010 Suzuki Cup (Don't cross the street when the Azkals play).

Because of deadline concerns, it was submitted before the game against Vietnam and before putting the page to bed, I remember  removing this line---“The team was to face Vietnam, which thrashed Myanmar, 7-1, but I believe in this team.”  Of course, just 45 minutes into the game against Vietnam, I face-palmed myself and though that I should have stuck with the line.

And, here we are again.  Last night, the Philippines was to take Myanmar for a spot in the semifinals and I believe, just like in 2010, with how the Philippine team played, anything is possible--(why fix it if it ain't broke?)

Mind you, Myanmar may be coming off a loss, but after topping the qualifiers, this team is one that is capable of a surprise.

By the way, it's been a very great week for Philippine football.  A day after repeating that win against Vietnam--who, by now should be tired of seeing anything Philippine-related--coach Ernie Nierras and the Malditas won the Viking Cup in LA.

It's a great reward for the coach and the players, who have worked hard, mostly under the radar, since 2005.

In 1997, when Cebu hosted the 2nd Philippine National Games (PNG), I remember telling then Cebu-based coach Graeme Mackinnon that perhaps, we'd see Philippine women's football succeed first before the men's team.  My logic was simple. The PNG was supposed to gather the best players in the country but the best footballers, then, were guys in their mid-30s and there were no standout young players. I thought then that perhaps the disparity between our lady players and the rest of Southeast Asia won't be as huge as our men's team and the rest of the region's players.

Now, women’s football in the country has a promising future because of the Malditas and more girls are getting into the sport because of its rising popularity.  There are more former players too, that are getting back in the game.

It’s just sad that the women’s game is still limited.  Five or six years ago, the University of San Carlos had a women’s team—with most players on a partial scholarship—but it eventually had to be disbanded because what good is a team if there are no tournaments around?

Right now, lady footballers who want a college scholarship have to go to Manila and I hope that will soon change.  The USC ladies team, too, has been revived for a couple of years now and has been dominating the age group competitions in Cebu.

I don’t know what the Philippine Football Federation has planned for next year, but I hope, aside from hosting international women’s tournaments, there would be a national tournament for the Girls Under-16, with provincial and regional eliminations.  That way, this age group will have more tournaments.

I hope, too that the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation Inc. (Cesafi) will include women’s football next year.  The other schools may have a difficult time in forming their teams, so the Cesafi could start with small steps, maybe a nine-a-side tournament?

It doesn’t have to start big, just baby steps, just like the case of Philippine football, which is enjoying the success it is having now because of the baby steps of guys like Dan Palami and Ernie Nierras. 

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