Indonesia wins; the Philippines doesn’t lose

Jourdan Polotan lived in Indonesia from 1993 to 2001. What did he see? He witnessed a nation – much like our devotion to Manny Pacquiao or basketball – that was fanatical about one sport.

“Football in Indonesia is very big,” Jourdan said. “Whenever my wife Jingle and I drove through the Kampungs (towns), there are two things you will always notice aside from the lush greenery – a high-walled covered structure (badminton court) and football fields. The Persetakan Sepak Bolah Seluruh Indonesia (literally, All Indonesia Football Association) has five levels in their national league. We lived in Surabaya, East Java, home of the Persebayas. Whenever there was a match in the city, we’d pay close attention on the radio. If the home team lost, their fans, known as the Boneks, had a tendency to act like the football hooligans in Europe. They’d ‘riot.’ But, good thing, the police were in control. All it meant was traffic jams – they would run around the streets, bang on car roofs, blow whistles and air horns.”

That’s why Indonesia beat the Azkals. They are rabid devotees; we’ve been stray dogs. The semi-final loss? It was sad for two reasons. One, had we beaten the hapless Myanmar in our final elimination game, we’d have faced Malaysia and, I believe, beaten them. We’d be in The Finals. Two, the home court “disadvantage” of not playing in Bacolod or Manila. That was painful; a Pinoy sure-boost that turned into 88,000 Indonesian boos.

Still, it is senseless to complain. In fact, it is outrageous to say we’re “losers.” In spirit, we won. Our twin 0-1 defeats in Jakarta were moments of pride. Those weren’t debacles. The returning PHL team is now a band of superstars.

Who’d have expected — just two weeks ago — that millions of Filipinos would watch the AFF Suzuki Cup on Star Sports? That, during a dinner party, Oscar Tuason and I would talk about the Azkals? That we’d all recognize Younghusband and Etheridge and Greatwich as Pinoys? That we’d be Facebook fans (30,000+ and counting) of the PHL squad? The past 16 days since we defeated the defending Suzuki Cup champions, Vietnam, have been like a Diego Maradona-like spiral on the green grass.

Where to, now? This is the question. This momentum has to be seized and sustained. My suggestion? These football heroes should tour our 7,107 islands, distribute Mizuno balls, organize free clinics on basketball courts and barangay lots, sign autographs at SM City malls, conduct Y101 and Bombo Radyo interviews, be featured on ANC and Sports Unlimited. This unexpected success story must not be wasted. The sport of kicking is now kicking and alive.

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