Azkals in Cebu: What a kick-start

Wasn’t Thursday night perfect? After the afternoon skies darkened and the clouds unleashed their wet venom, weren’t we all begging our Lord, Oh no, please don’t let it rain! It did not. Instead, the sky’s ceiling was pitch-dark, perfect for down below, the green pitch…

The green pitch was outstanding. Talk about surprises. Talk about transforming a dusty field into a golf course that’s called a soccer field. Wow. Everybody applauded the grass. Michael Weiss. The Singaporeans. And us, the spectators, numbering 7,000 eyeballs, all gazing and awestruck at the green field.

The venue, the Cebu City Sports Center? This is our own Rizal Memorial Sports Complex. It’s our Ground Zero. Our sports headquarters. You know what’s amazing? Coupled with the majestic green pitch was the majestic maroon-colored rubberized oval. Again, exemplary timing: the oval gets renovated just months before 11-15-2012.

The lights? Were those lights? Or was that the sun beaming its rays on CCSC? I counted dozens, hundreds, of floodlights that flooded the arena. This is what happens when the president of the Cebu Football Association (CFA) is one of this island’s mightiest of construction magnates: the stadium is bright as noon.

Thanks to Ricky Dakay, the engineer (or “Doctor,” since he’s earned a Doctorate in Engineering in the U.S.) who owns Dakay Construction and Development Corp.

What else? Fireworks, like sparkling Christmas lights, colored the starless, black sky. The Kaholeros — more than 300-strong and standing across the stadium-full of spectators — lost all their voices by Friday morning. They screamed and danced and were gifted by the Azkals team a personal visit at game’s end.

THE GAME? Was it perfect? The 1-0 final score, no doubt, was splendid.

But the first half? Ha-ha. Don’t call me “Amalayer” when I say this: The Azkals were lousy. Were these our national players? They get hold of the ball… then lose it in 10 seconds. The Lions held the ball 70 percent of the time. It was a mismatch. Singapore would make zigzag, pinpoint passes; we’d scramble and turnover the football. “The first half was one of the least spectacular performances we’ve seen under my guidance… We’re lucky we’re not punished,” said coach Weiss.

True. In those first 45 minutes, we could easily have gone down, 0-2. Or, 0-3. They had chances after chances, especially that free kick. Thankfully, we ended the half at 0-all.

The 2nd half? What a difference. With the Younghusbands, the Azkals were a different animal. In the first half they were puppies; in the second half, they became rabid, hungry, thirsty, salivating “azkals.” They were dogs. And how the dogs would run around and defeat — in the animal kingdom — the bigger and stronger lions.

We held ball possession. We defended. We attempted on multiple occasions. We were aggressive. We were in command.

The hero? Of course: Ed Sacapaño of Bacolod, the goalie who stopped the spinning ball from hitting our net. Thanks to the man from the City of Smiles, we smiled.

CEBU. Last Thursday night was a moment-changer. The new CCSC plus the upcoming USC Talamban field (picturesque, by the mountains) will convert Sugbu into a national powerhouse football venue.

Sure, Manila is our nation’s capital — but most athletes prefer Cebu because, very often, our spectators are noisier, more rabid. We bark. We are azkals-like fans. We’re the azkals watching the azkals. Dan Palami, the country’s Mr. Football himself, couldn’t be happier with Cebu.

Mayor Michael Lopez Rama, while the game was ongoing in the early minutes, was not watching. Instead, he and Ricky Dakay toured the CCSC grounds — pointing at areas to improve. In my conversation with the mayor last Friday night, he repeatedly called the event, “superb.”

This is teamwork. It’s the private and public sectors passing the ball to one another, like James and Phil, to achieve a common goal.

The goal? To goal. To Dan Palami, the new CFA, and the rest of the tireless volunteers and organizers: What a kick-start you’ve given Cebu football.

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