Privileged Spits


Can Azkals qualify to World Cup?
Why not?

Etheridge clips the ball after stopping the shot of Timnas Indonesia.

Europe’s one of the most legendary players is

an Ilonggo who scored 356 goals in 357 games,

far better than Pele, Maradona, Ronaldo!

I was the first to coin the name “Pacman” to Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao.  I was the news editor of the defunct People’s Journal Tonight International Edition when I had no big news story for the day but the fight of this Dadiangas boy the next day.

I chose the story about the fight of Pacquiao against then invincible Marco “Baby Faced Assassin” Barrera.  In the headline story I wrote, I gave the Filipino the name “Pacman” and everybody else reporting the next days about boxing used “Pacman” for Pacquiao.

I thought of using the name because I likened this boy to Pacman, the voracious eater in one of the earliest computer games whose power becomes invincible when it eats a magic food called pellet.

The rest became history. Pacquiao is now the greatest boxer to have existed on earth.

Now is another story in another sport: soccer or football not the American way.

And talking of soccer, we now talk about Azkals, the Philippine team that survived the tough elimination rounds to qualify to the group stage. After qualifying, Azkals went on to win the group’s top two positions to earn the ticket to play in the semifinals against Indonesia.

Against Indonesia, the only win by their opponents is one goal for every game, their least.  That means the goal was brought about by luck powered by the inspiration of the 80,000 hometown crowd cheering for them.

Actually, it is interesting to note that the Azkals as “Asong Kalye” (street dog) was battling Timnas Indonesia which may mean “Itim na aso” Indonesia.

With this latest success of the Philippines through Azkals and with the announcement of the intention for our boys to win the Asian qualifying matches to earn a ticket to the World Cup, I ask: Can the Filipinos qualify to the World Cup, the tournament that has the highest level of football or soccer?

Before answering this, let us look at Asian’s history in this sport. So far, only South Korea, North Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia have qualified to play in the biggest soccer event that is awaited by billions of people around the globe every four years.

This Filipino dream has been hatched since 1907, the year Philippine Football Federation was founded.  It affiliated with Federacion Internationale de Football Associacion (FIFA) in 1930.  Not once has any team of ours qualified to the World Cup.

One of the logos of Azkals

In 1991, the Filipinos reached the semifinals of the SEA Games held in Manila—the same record as what the Azkals have just done.

Only a few Filipinos know that in 1912 to 1927, Paulino Alcantara, who was born in Iloilo City on 7 October 1896.  At age 15, he was drafted by FC Barcelona in the Spanish League to score a hat-trick in his first game with this one of the best clubs in Europe. His four years in this team gave it two Catalonia State Championships and one Spanish Cup.  In his entire career, he scored 356 goals in 357 games, a record that made him the most legendary player in Spain.

Alcantara played briefly for the national teams of the Philippines and Spain to score six goals and bring honor to both countries with five caps.   He was drafted to play in the 1920 Olympics for Spain but he refused to give focus to his career as a doctor. He briefly retired in 1927 and returned in 1951 to become the coach of Spain’s national team in three games all won by the Spaniards.  He died in 1964 at the age of 57.

So that if Alcantara, a Filipino-Spanish mestizo, became one of the world’s greatest soccer players Europe has seen, there is no reason for the Pinoys to say they cannot qualify the World Cup.

The glorious past of the Philippines was not limited to Alcantara alone.  Philippines then defeated China to win the title in the Far Eastern Championship.

So, if there is any meaning in all these facts, it is an argument that the Filipinos have natural talent in football.  It is only there to be harnessed.

Playing constantly against high-caliber players is the key to victory.  If it is so, my theory for the Filipinos to beat South Korea, North Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia, we have to make Azkals play with the best of Europe and the best of South America every week from now on.

In Europe, there reside five-time champions Italy, two-time champions Germany, and one-time champions England, Spain and France.  In South America, there reside five-time champions Brazil and two-time champions Argentina.

My theory is supported by this thesis of former Philippine Football Federation (PFF) president Col. Lope Quimzon Pascual.

In 1991, Pascual used all his connections and businessmen friends to gather monies to finance all possible training games the national team can have and to ensure that the foods and vitamins of the players are available without fail.

During the two-year training, Pascual booked as much international games as possible that the monies can afford to give the Philippines team the exposure they needed.  The most the team can have as training games, however, were not that with the best teams of Asia because they lacked funds.

If Pascual had more budgets then, he was dreaming to bring the national team to South Korea, Japan, Europe and South America.

Nevertheless, more consistent matches with lower-classed teams proved Pascual’s theory right.

In the ensuing South East Asian Games in 1991 in Manila, the Philippines defeated defending champions Malaysia after Bacolod striker Norman Fegidero made a 360-degree-turn to convert the long right-wing pass from Australian league player Elmer Bedia, a native of Barotac, Iloilo.

Euphoria erupted at the Rizal Memorial Stadium that Filipino audience went to a wild celebration on and off the pitch and on the bleachers.

In this event, Philippines drew thereafter with Vietnam, 1-1, after taking control of the game for more than one half with a 1-0 edge.

Studying the case of Alcantara, he became the eloquent statement of what should the best footballer be, arguably because he got used to play against Spanish players while staying in Catalonia.

In the case of Azkals, their preparations for the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup are far better than in the Suzuki Cup of 2008.

For the 2008 event, the Younghusband strikers were assured of all-expense-paid tickets, board and lodging but he ended up using up his savings to pay for his own, as his brother’s case.   He pulled out of the team on a matter of principle.  The team fared unluckily, beaten out by Tajikstan in a tie-break to qualify to the cup.

But the entry of the administration of P-Noy Aquino perhaps fared better.  They were given a foreign coach in the person of McNemeny and provided modest support.  In short, the government gave them better treatment and sufficiently support in terms of health and food needs.

Logo of Philippine Football Association

Although a few international exposures were had in the route to the start of the biennial meet, they emerged the top team in the qualifying matches against Laos, Cambodia, and Timor Leste.

Thereafter, the Azkals joined the group game and defeated defending champions Vietnam, forged a 1-1 late drew with Singapore, and had a scoreless draw with Myanmar to qualify to the semifinals.

In the semis, the better-prepared and most-exposed Indonesia only got one lucky goal in each of the two games because the “Itim na aso” Indons were cheered on by an 80,000 crowd while the Filipinos were feeling the heat of the hostile hosts.

The World Cup is still in 2014 and there are at least three years for the Azkals to prepare.

I therefore recommend to President P-Noy to give full financial support to them for the Azkals to be able to play against the best teams of Europe and South America.  They have to learn to beat the best in order for them to be honed to become the best.

Only the best can beat the best!