Recently, football has been getting a lot of attention and air-time. For those completely absorbed in basketball and not much else, the buzz began when our Philippine National Football Team, or the Azkals as they are lovingly called, won a crucial match in the ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup last December 5 against Vietnam, 2-1.
[firstpara] The win was surprising, to say the least. Nobody expected it, not in the least Vietnam, whose home crowd did not find the need to hide their hostility.
They will be playing on Sunday against Indonesia in the second leg of the semi-finals.
Perhaps it's time we brush up on our knowledge about The Azkals.
Who are the Azkals?
The Azkals are the Philippine National Team in Football.
The team is composed of several Filipinos of foreign descent, some of whom have been with the team as early as 2005, as well as several local veterans.
The name Azkals has been around about the same time, branded by their passionate, if small, fanbase as a tribute to both the ethnic diversity of the team and their gritty underdog status in the Southeast Asian region.
The Azkals have players who are either born or based in England, the United States and even the Netherlands.
What is up with the buzz around them?
The Azkals generated some buzz when they opened the group phase of the 2010 ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup with a 1-1 draw against regional powerhouse Singapore.
Though they didn’t exactly win, the draw came in as a nice big surprise because Singapore had won two of the previous three installments of the tournament (in 2004 and in 2007).
But talk about the Azkals really made headlines when they pulled off an unlikely 2-0 upset over Vietnam, the hosts and defending champions last December 5. Television commentators were calling it “the biggest upset in Southeast Asian football history.”
And it’s true: the hostile home crowd was stunned into silence. The shocked coach of the Vietnam squad refused multiple attempts by Azkals head coach Simon McMenemy to shake hands.
And Team Philippines, one of only two in the tournament who were not automatic qualifiers and had to go through a separate mini-tournament to even make it to the group phase, threatened to top the group and even push Vietnam on the brink of elimination.
WORDS BY: MIKKEL BOLANTE