Saturday, December 28, 2013

Fair Play: Twas the year of Gilas and the Azkals

(This is my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu's Dec. 28 edition)
FOR Pinoy sports fans, especially those who love basketball and football, 2013 was a special one. One for the books.

And better yet, 2013 also opened the doors for bigger and greater things ini 2014.

First, it was the Azkals and that bizarre Challenge Cup qualifiers in March that had everything--drama, a missing team, stoppages due to heavy rain and a brownout and then last August, for 11 days, a euphoric Philippines stood behind one team as it finally exorcised the ghost of “Korean basketball past.”

For those who remember the 2002 Asian Games heartbreak, it was extra special and for those who don’t, visions of the Fiba World Championships in 2014 were creeping in.

“Jimmy launches it...BOOOM!!!!” The commentator screamed, a line that will forever be one of the most memorable in Philippine basketball history. And, like the thousands at the MOA Arena shouting “Puso! Puso!” Those who followed the games on TV all stood, jumped and celebrated.

That night, Philippine basketball was on a high. And, before that in March, Philippine football, too, was on overdrive.

After watching Turkmenistan get seven past a hapless Cambodia squad, Phil Younghusband and Javier Patino--who traces his lineage to Dumanjug, Cebu--teamed up for five in their 8-0 win against Cambodia, which fielded its U23 squad. Phil needed only 34 minutes to complete a hat trick, while Patino showed why he’s been worth the wait as the striker from Spain had two in his debut.

I was there in Bacolod when Phil had four in a 7-0 win against Timor Leste in the 2006 AFF Championship qualifiers and I thought that that was going to be the benchmark for Philippine football. Seven years later, I was happy to have been proven wrong with that 8-0 win.

Up next was Turkmenistan, and of course, we all saw how Phil finished a play that involved almost everybody for that lone goal of the match, sealing the Philippines entry to next year’s AFC Challenge Cup for the second straight time.

For Gilas, that win against Korea sealed the country’s return to the world championships for the first time in almost a generation.

For basketball and football, 2013 was a marquee year and other NSAs should pay attention. That success didn’t come overnight and was made possible because of the men in charge of the sport.

Because just a few years ago, the basketball and football NSAs were neck-deep in mud that you’d have to wonder whether they’d amount to anything. And what finally kick-started the reforms were national team results—albeit in contrasting fashion.

For football, it was the 2010 Suzuki Cup, when an under-funded and under-supported team was denied a semifinal hosting by the PFF, leading to the long-delayed ouster of the president. And for basketball, , it was a tuneup game involving the national team
and a bunch of actors, who, curiously won.

What’s happening to the basketball team and how could they lose to a bunch of actors?

A lot of folks asked and the search for answers led to a lot of infighting, a suspension and the eventual formation of the SBP, which eventually formed Gilas Pilipinas.

Gilas Pilipinas we saw in August and we will see them again in Spain in the World Championships, just as we’ll see the Azkals again in the AFC Challenge Cup.

This year is the year of basketball and football and it was made possible because finally, the people in charge of the sport learned their lessons of bitter-years past and I’m pointing at you PSC and POC.

THE LAST LAUGH. The SEA Games is done and as predicted, the sports officials are justifying the poor showing by pointing out we sent a lean team, overlooking that tiny detail that the fact we sent a lean team was a failure in itself.

Here’s my favorite line of all the brouhaha by Dan Palami, “Sports history: Philippines suffer worst ever finish in SEAG history and Azkals end year with best ranking ever.”


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