Basketball has been dominating the Philippine landscape for decades. Thanks to the visiting Americans during WW2 and the special attention it got since the PBA, our very own professional league was conceptualized. Every teenager wanted to be a Mon Fernandez, or Guidaben, or Patrimonio, or Jolas, and of course, a Jaworski. The streets would be lined up of makeshift basketball rings/courts and playing 3-on-3 with the neighbors was delightful.
As a skinny teenager I would often be left out of the intramural basketball team. Height and heft was needed coupled with a must in basketball skills. Sadly, I was never one of those hand-picked by our Captain Ball to join the team. I played basketball but basketball didn't seem to like me.
That was when football came to my rescue. It turned out that I was very good at it, eventually making it to the school varsity team in 3rd year high school. I resumed playing in 1st and 2nd year college and even after I graduated. It was enjoyable to play the world's most popular game.
But then, it was all just that. After high school or college there were no offers from big league football clubs nor continuing programs that were available for landing a pro or even a semi-pro contract. The fact was that football is not our sport. Basketball is. There were rumors of corruption along the PFF ranks then, with every PFF President taking turns in pocketing the country's budget for football despite how measly it was. No one can really confirm those rumors but it may have been true since there was nothing stellar that came out of the PFF except for the 1995 SEA games when the whole Rizal Stadium celebrated when we drew against Malaysia.
Yes, we celebrated, i.e. danced on the football field when the final whistle sounded ---over a draw.
That time, to many of us school footballers, the competitive play ends in school. The Philippine team was mostly reserved for the great players from Visayas or Mindanao which I consider as the bedlam of Philippine football. Office leagues are mainly for basketball and volleyball only. Football was never in the spotlight, except of course, when the World Cup was in season and many of those half-baked Filipino fans just want to get a share of the action. Once the World Cup ends, the excitement of these fans dies with it.
Fast forward to 2010, a resurgence in the form of the AZKALS, the Philippine football team sent to the AFF Suzuki Cup, has awakened the minds of the basketball/boxing-crazed Filipino. The draws against powerhouse Singapore and Myanmar, and that unforgettable 2-0 beating unleashed to Vietnam in the group stages, had made me believe that somehow, Azkals football has bitten the minds of its people that football IS really the way to go.
They put up a valiant effort in the away and away semifinal legs (not home and away since there was no home football field available that met the AFF's standard; FIFA might've said the same way) versus football-crazy Indonesia. The score on both legs was 0-1 which is highly-respectable. Obviously, the Azkals defense was relentless inspite of the stadium filled to to the brim of Indonesians jeering and booing at every Azkals play.
They end the AFF Suzuki Cup campaign not in defeat for I believe that they've accomplished something far better and that is to wake up the basketball-drugged Filipino and say that "HEY! We CAN be football greats if we want it to be!"
I sincerely hope that the PSC or the PFF takes notice of this great achievement. Let it not remain a brief spark. I ask that the PSC/PFF keeps the light of football alive in our country since the Azkals have made the other SEA countries respect Filipino football. Scores of 0-13, 0-10 against us could be a thing of the past if the right support is given over these lads and future players that can represent us in upcoming inter-country meets.
And, who knows, we might finally get our place in the World Cup Finals. Maybe not in my lifetime, but I hope and dream that we'll get to that place someday.
Impossible you say? Try saying that to the Azkals.