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From the eyes of a football newbie: An essay on the Philippine Azkals

I am never a football fan.

In fact, last Thursday was the first time I ever watched a whole football battle. How on earth will I be able to understand its rules when all they ever do is run back and forth? How will they set-up a good defense when they could not even touch the ball with their hands? And how on earth will a foul be called on that big court with no replays to aid the referees? How many players and referees are there again? I was lost.

As a basketball fan, I get the point of scoring and not let the opponent score. But after that, I am clueless. I am not even aware that it is played on a running time. In basketball, the clock is stopped when the game is stopped. Damn, time is important in sports like these. I never had the chance to Google the football rules since the game is already on its way when I decided to watch the game. I never even intended to watch it in the first place. I get it, the Younghusbands are indeed great candidates for young husbands but after them, I don't know anyone from the Philippine team called RP Azkals. But since my Twitter and Facebook accounts are quite sporty, posts from different people cheering for the Azkals made me decide to try to watch the game.

I knew nothing about the game, but I was never disappointed.

There goes the back and forth running that I am talking about. How could they dribble that ball? I was amazed as I look at how they managed to cross the ball to the other side. I felt all sorts of emotions. Confused, I did not know that backcourt is not a violation in football. I did not even know the positions played by the players. Is it like the positions in basketball? There's the center, forwards and guards? I don't know. Problematic, I wondered how the foul is being called... and yes, their goes the yellow and red card thing. But even with all these questions, I did not, at all, thought about switching channels. From the moment I decided to watch, I knew that there is something worth watching in that game.

I know Philippines is not a name for world-class football, and not even here. In a country dominated by basketball and boxing fans, the Philippine Azkals really needed extra hard work just to be deserving of our look. And mind you, the moment they were able to capture a semi-final slot in the AFF Suzuki Cup, everyone became curious; everyone became interested; everyone wondered, "Who are these Azkals?". Underdog, yes, but deadly. One offensive mistake and the goal could be theirs for the taking. This is a defensive team. They live and die with the pressure they put on their opponents and the miscues it brings.   

Game 2 of the semi-finals. Now, I am more aware of what's happening. I realized that the rules are not that hard to get and the situations are not that hard to understand. I am more into the game now than I am last Thursday. I was able to recognize the near goals, the fouls called, and even the fouls not called. There's the adrenalin rush as I watched the game. I felt the same intensity that I am feeling as I watch a basketball game.  I was nervous, I was mad, I was happy, I was pissed. I liked it. I liked the feeling of being into the game. I realized the scenario. I knew how many goals Philippines needed to at least get a penalty shootout. Imagine? I even know the term penalty shootout now. I am even aware that RP needs to have its own stadium. Damn, we need a world-class stadium. I will watch the game of the Azkals the moment that stadium will be completed (as long as the location is strategic). I want to experience being one of the crowd, being one with football. I loved it. I loved the feeling of being into the game.

I will not get to the game itself. I'm sure, moments from now, articles will be all over the internet. Philippines did not get the chance to advance to the finals, but the Azkals did not lose anything from being defeated. From that defeat, the Azkals should not be ashamed for they gained the respect not only from their opponents but from their own nation. I posted in my Twitter that I think that the RP Azkals should be given a heroes' welcome when they get home. I really do think they deserve it. It was a gallant stand to try to bring the Philippines to the pedestal of international football. They maybe defeated now but they did give the opponents a good scare. Note that they don't even have any naturalized players. That was all Pinoy! More exposure, better program, an own stadium and I tell you, our RP Azkals will go a long way internationally.

This defeat is one of the few chances that made me even more proud of being a Filipino. Mostly, we get that Pinoy pride in victories, but this time, an almost victory was enough to remind us that Filipinos  have the means to level up to the expectations of international sports. Our athletes just need our utmost support... support from the government and support from their countrymen.

I am never a football fan... not until the Philippine Azkals gave me a reason to believe.

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