Category Archives: Football

Football and basketball

Harry Roque, the often embattled spokesman, said this (in Filipino) last Friday: “Practice and conditioning are now allowed in basketball and football, in accordance with the request of the PBA and other football associations.”

This brings bad news and good news.

Bad news because basketball and football are “anti-social distancing” activities. Both games are close-contact sports. Apart from wrestling, I can’t think of any other sport that requires more body-to-body action than soccer and basketball. Scary? Yes. If a player is Covid-19 positive and he plays 5-on-5 basketball, we know the end result. Everybody gets infected.

Good news because the authorities are confident. While Cebu City is stuck in ECQ mode, the outlook in Metro Manila is different. They’re opening up. This is good news because the world needs sports. Amidst all the negativity and hopelessness, the world of sports brings hope and (pun intended) positivity.

How will the PBA do this? The Board will meet soon to lay out their plans for practice sessions. They also hope to plot options for a date for the PBA’s full return; a single conference season is targeted to end 2020. 

Willie Marcial, the PBA commissioner, said that a “bubble” will be enforced to ensure safety for all. In an interview, he said that all players and staff will be tested three days prior to the first practice session. After that, they’ll be tested every 10 days.

Tim Cone, the coach of Barangay Ginebra, told the Inquirer: “(There are still) so much details (that) needs to be worked out.” And SMB coach Leo Austria added: “We’re still far from what we all long for, which is official games. But the mere fact that we’re making such progress gives hope to the people.”

In the Super Bowl, Tom Brady is super

In this era of Michael Phelps, Serena Williams, Usain Bolt, Roger Federer and (should I include him?) Floyd Mayweather, Jr., when we are all witnesses to the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) athletes, one man has enshrined himself as NFL’s best quarterback.

Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. is old at 39. In this merciless sport when a 314-lb. linebacker can bulldoze your body from behind, when injuries are ever-present and the banging and hammering of quarterbacks is the defense’s No. 1 goal, Tom Terrific is terrific.

“Brady is getting better with age,” said Lapu-Lapu City councilor Harry Radaza, a long-time football fan. “That cements Brady’s legacy. He went from ‘arguably’ the best QB to ‘definitively’ the best. I would love to see him retire but he still wants to play. That means we get to see the GOAT for another 4 years. Enjoy it while we can! And did you know he was the 199th pick? When the rookie met owner Robert Kraft, he told him, ‘I’m the best decision this organization has ever made.’”

With the Super Bowl, I did not get to watch the live telecast last Monday. It was only late that night when I switched on the Sports Illustrated channel 763 that I saw the important moments of SB LI: the Patriots were down 9-28 with 14 minutes left. No way they could mount a comeback. But they scored and scored — 25 unanswered points to zero for the Falcons — en route to a miraculous 34-28 victory in front of 70,807 fans in Houston.

The highlight was Julian Edelman’s catch with 2:03 left in the 4th. Surrounded by three Falcons defenders, Edelman was able to catch the throw of Brady with the ball floating inches from the ground.

Ping-J Villegas, writing from New Jersey, watched the game at home with his wife Jenn: “The game was one of the best since I moved to the U.S. 20 years ago. It was nerve-wrecking. At first, I thought the game would be lousy because of the score before the 2nd half. I guess Lady GaGa woke up Brady, hehe. I made a bet with my boss that the Patriots will win and now I have a free lunch to collect. It was dead at work at Bloomberg for a Monday morning. A lot of people called in sick or just worked from home.”

My wife’s cousin Richard Baluyot, who lives in Atlanta, said, “I’m watching the news and the city is in a somber state. The fans are heartbroken. When the Falcons returned, there was only a small crowd to greet them. Here it’s called Monday Mourning.”

Super Bowl LI in the Land of Trump

If you’re wondering what “LI” stands for, that’s the Roman numeral for 51. Tomorrow (9:30 a.m., Phil. time), it’s the 51st Super Bowl. An estimated 110 million TV viewers will watch “Super Bowl Sunday” in what’s unofficially billed as American’s national holiday. It’s the single most watched television broadcast in the U.S.

“Football is perfect for TV,” said Dan Mastous, my long-time tennis friend who resides in New Hampshire and was in Cebu recently with wife Julie to swim with the butandings and trek to Tops. “The games are played once a week, so there is plenty of time for discussion and build up. The excitement grows as the game approaches. Even the commercials have become ‘must see TV.’ Sometimes the commercials are better than the game.”

How much does a 30-second ad cost? During the first Super Bowl in 1967, it cost $42,000. Expensive, yes. But here’s the mind-boggling figure from last year: $5 million. That’s $166,666 or PhP8.3 million per second.

On the game of American football, it’s thrilling. Back in Dec. of 2014, my CIS schoolmate and now New York resident Ping-J Villegas picked me up in his BMW Boxster convertible to watch the New York Giants and Washington Redskins in MetLife Stadium. Drinking beer and devouring hotdogs in the freezing cold while watching Eli Manning pass to Odell Beckham was an unforgettable two-hour experience.

With Super Bowl LI, this is the finals of the National Football League (NFL). When the season started four months ago, 32 teams competed. The New England Patriots amassed a 14-2 regular season record while the Atlanta Falcons scored 11-5. Both teams clash tomorrow in Houston.

What’s electrifying is the clash of the quarterbacks. The Patriots have Tom Brady, the 39-year-old four-time Super Bowl champ who stands 6-foot-4 and is married to Gisele Bundchen. At the opposite end is the Falcon’s Matt Ryan. Though they’re of the same height and weight (around 220 lbs.), Ryan’s credentials do not match Brady’s but he might have a better prize: Ryan is slated to be this season’s MVP.

Oddsmakers tilt the betting on the Patriots. Understandable because they’ve won four times during the Brady-Belichick era. 

“It’s a gladiator sport which has plenty of explosive action and precision that at times is difficult to understand for the layman,” Dan Mastous said. True. And, apart from Brady vs. Ryan and those $5 million ads, there’s the halftime show featuring Lady Gaga.

Tom Brady

Last Sunday, I published the comments of Dan Mastous, my long-time American friend who, although he’s a Dallas Cowboys fan, thought that the New England Patriots should not be punished. Well, the verdict is out and it’s severe: four games suspension for Brady and $1 million in fines (plus no upcoming draft picks).

To the non-NFL fan, four games might be very few — but in the NFL, this is plenty. Consider that while MLB (baseball) has 162 games in the regular season and the NBA has 82, the NFL only has 16 regular season games. Why so few? Because NFL is all about physical contact. It’s two giants colliding; a defender ramming a quarterback while he’s not looking; helmets head-butting; it’s 275-lb. musclemen jumping on top of each other.

Brady’s four-game suspension appears to be one of the most severe penalties ever handed, especially to a mighty superstar. It’s like informing Lionel Messi that he can’t play for two months. Like Dana White telling Jon Bones Jones that he’s suspended indefinitely. (He is!)

I agree with the suspension. Based on the findings — though there was no personal admission and no witnesses saw the actual “DeflateGate” — it was clear that cheating ensued. And even if the act was inconsequential, cheating is cheating. It has no place in sports. To condone it will be a terrible message for the public, particularly to the youth.

Dan Mastous on Tom Brady and cheating in sports

I’ve known him for 20 years. Each time he visits, we play tennis at Casino Español. He stands 6-foot-6, lives north of Boston, and is a lifelong sports fanatic.

Dan Mastous emailed me on “DeflateGate.” It’s the biggest “scandal” in America today and it involves a star NFL quarterback, the husband of supermodel Gisele Bundchen. Here’s Dan’s take on the controversy:

“I live about an hour-and-a-half north of Foxboro, MA (home of the New England Patriots). It’s definitively Patriot country.

“Under-inflated balls did not help the Patriots beat the Colts 47-7, and they certainly didn’t help Tom Brady torch one of the NFL’s best secondaries in the Super Bowl.

“The bottom line to me is — and this is the case in most of life in the USA — when someone is successful, as the Patriots have been for 15 years, everyone is looking to knock them off their perch. Everyone is looking to find fault with them.

“First there was the ‘tuck rule’ then Spy-gate, now deflate-gate. It’s all pebbles on a beach. Each charge is small and insignificant. They win because Bill Belichick is a better coach. He rarely has the best players, though they are very good.

“Tom Brady is a big part of that, however, and when he starts to slow down, we’ll see if Belichick can keep it up. My guess is he won’t bother to try. He’ll retire along with Brady. Still I’m a bit disappointed in the Pats.

“It’s the American way… if you aren’t cheating, you aren’t trying. The Pats are doing nothing the other teams aren’t doing. They are covering all the bases to win. They do have some standard about the types of players they have. They don’t mind if they have a bad record necessarily. Just as long as they don’t do anything bad while on the Patriots. Aaron Hernandez, now on trial for murder, aside, they have a good record in this.

“As far as what the Pats are accused of, I don’t think it makes a considerable difference in the outcome of a game. The game in question showed that. The Pats were dominant all game. The issue was discovered and corrected during half time. There was no question the balls were properly inflated during the Super Bowl, and Brady demoralized the Seahawks at times during that game.

“I don’t think the inflation of the footballs is as influential on the game as Performance-Enhancing Drugs (PEDs), but I think PEDs are less of an issue than most in this country. The only reason PEDs are frowned upon in pro sports is because of the influence pro athletes have on kids. PEDs are not too damaging to adults (in fact they are frequently prescribed for older people), but they are very damaging to the growth of kids. So they are outlawed.

“There was a moment in last year’s NBA Finals, maybe you saw it. I think it was Game 2. Dwayne Wade had the ball at half court and lost it. He was trying to get control of it and Manu Ginobili brought his hands up near Wade’s face. Not really close, didn’t hit Wade, but Wade turned his head and fell back like he got punched. This resulted in a foul on Ginobili and free throws for Wade. A phantom foul clearly influenced by Wade.

“I think that kind of thing is much worse than what the Pats are accused of, possibly even worse than steroids. What Pete Rose did was much worse that what the Pats are accused of.

“There is cheating and then there is CHEATING. Affecting the outcome of a game, either by what Wade did, or what Rose may have done (as a manager to win his bets), is very bad. Or even in tennis. Calling a shot out that wasn’t out in a friendly match is very bad. Breaking the law (illegal drugs, steroids aren’t completely illegal, murder, theft, that kind of thing) is very bad. It doesn’t have an effect on the game, but it shouldn’t be looked past either.

“What the Pats did was wrong because they broke the rules, but not all that influential on the game, so no I don’t think it was that big of a deal. I think it’s simply that most of the other teams looking for reasons they can’t beat Belichick & Brady.”

12th Thirsty Cup

It started last Friday at 5:30 p.m. It ran that whole night. The next day, from morning until midnight, the games ensued. Same with last Sunday. For 16 hours that day, there was nonstop kicking, heading, passing and diving.

One dozen “Thirsty Cups” have concluded and three men have remained constant since the event started in 2004. My brother Charlie, who conceptualized this tournament, and his good friends, Chad Songalia and Neil Montesclaros.

The Thirsty Cup has dribbled from venue to venue — the Ayala (Cebu Business Park) grounds to San Roque to USC Talamban and now, the Cebu City Sports Center — but these three have been the same triumvirate behind the event.

This tournament is unique for many reasons. It brings over 200 teams nationwide in one site. Multiplied by 10 players per squad, that’s over 2,000 participants. A record 30+ teams traveled from outside Cebu to join.

Girls play in one pitch while boys play in the other. A 7-year-old boy kicks his first kick while a 50-something fires a winning goal. Father and son join. The music, expertly played by “DJ Chad,” rocks the stadium. (Aina Lacson loved the 80s hits.) It’s football and beach football rolled in one. It’s a format that allows you to lose once but still have a chance to win the trophy. It’s plenty of 0-0 scores and scary penalty shootouts to decide either heartbreak or ecstasy.

Pope Francis: Be ‘athletes of Christ’

Vatican-Pope-Messi_phil_AP-676x450(AP photo)

In July of 2013, Pope Francis stood before hundreds of thousands of young people on Copacabana Beach. Here’s what he said during the 14th World Youth Day: “A field is a training ground. Jesus asks us to follow him for life, he asks us to be his disciples, to ‘play on his team.’ I think that most of you love sports! Here in Brazil, as in other countries, football is a national passion. Now, what do players do when they are asked to join a team? They have to train, and to train a lot! The same is true of our lives as the Lord’s disciples. Saint Paul tells us: ‘Athletes deny themselves all sorts of things; they do this to win a crown of leaves that withers, but we a crown that is imperishable’ (1 Cor 9:25).

“Jesus offers us something bigger than the World Cup! He offers us the possibility of a fulfilled and fruitful life; he also offers us a future with him, an endless future, eternal life. But he asks us to train, ‘to get in shape,’ so that we can face every situation in life undaunted, bearing witness to our faith. How do we get in shape? By talking with him: by prayer, which is our daily conversation with God, who always listens to us. By the sacraments, which make his life grow within us and conform us to Christ. By loving one another, learning to listen, to understand, to forgive, to be accepting and to help others, everybody, with no one excluded or ostracized. Dear young people, be true “athletes of Christ!”

Beautiful! Just like all the messages that we’ve heard from the Holy Father these past few days.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born 78 years ago in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In a nation that has produced Diego Maradona, the pope grew up following the local Club Atletico San Lorenzo squad. Lionel Messi, his countryman, upon meeting the pope last year, said these words: “Without doubt, one of the most special days of my life.”

In May of last year at the Vatican, the pope tackled the game of football. He spoke to the Italian and Argentinian teams.

“He reminded the players that they are role models for many football fans and encouraged them to take that responsibility seriously. He then asked them to foster the ‘beauty, generosity, and camaraderie’ that sport can produce,” said the story in the Catholic Herald website.

“Pope Francis… called on players to ‘live your sport as a gift from God, an opportunity not only to improve your talents, but also a responsibility.’ And he returned to the idea that athletes should act as role models, encouraging them to set an example of loyalty, respect, and selflessness. ‘I have confidence,’ he said, ‘in all the good you can do, especially among young people.’

“Pope Francis concluded by praying that the athletes will continue to be able to pursue the “noble vocation” of sport – and he asked them to pray for him, too, ‘that in the playing field that the Lord has placed me, I can play the game honestly and courageously, for the good of all.’”

America’s most popular sport

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NEW YORK—Here in the U.S., the most popular sport is not baseball or the NBA or hockey or Serena Williams’ game or soccer. It’s American football. From the first name alone (“American”), we know that this game is deeply rooted to this nation’s 320 million people.

The National Football League (NFL) is the name of the sport’s professional league. It features 32 teams divided into two groups: the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). The season doesn’t run for 12 months; it’s only from September until February and it culminates with the biggest sporting event in America: the Super Bowl. This season, it will be held on Feb. 1, 2015 in Arizona. The Super Bowl is that one-game-only Finals that is watched by over 110 million TV viewers.

I’ve followed American football. This started back in high school at the Cebu International School when, surrounded by American schoolmates, we’d toss and throw the football.

On TV, I watched the Super Bowl plenty of times. Featuring half-time performances that would invite names like The Rolling Stones, Madonna and The Black Eyed Peas, it’s a mega sporting and entertainment event. The hosting of the Super Bowl hops from one city to another.

Last February, Super Bowl XLVIII was played at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. That’s where I was last Sunday.

The moment when Jasmin, Jana and I finalized our plans to spend Christmas in the U.S., I contacted a friend to find time and join me in watching a spectacle that I’ve longed to see for years: a live NFL game.

Ping-J Villegas is someone I’ve known for over 25 years now. Her older sister, Cefelin, was my girlfriend in high school and I’m very close to his two other siblings, Lovelin and JP. A huge sports fan who played basketball at CIS and Cebu Doctor’s back in Cebu, Ping-J has now resided in New York for over 17 years. Within minutes of my contacting Ping-J a few months back, we researched the options and Ping-J quickly bought tickets online.

The date was set: Dec. 14 at the MetLife Stadium featuring the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins.

From Cebu, we arrived at the Newark Airport in New Jersey the night before the game (Saturday) at 9 p.m. and made sure that no jet lag would hamper the following day’s excitement. After hearing mass at 10 a.m., Ping-J was right on time picking me up at 11.

A Porsche Boxster, Ping-J’s two-seater of a sporting machine, stood shining at the front. We were off. The temperature? It’s 4 degrees Celsius cold in NYC. But that didn’t stop us from opening the hood of the Porsche and speeding towards the arena (at over 80 mph) in the New Jersey cold.

We got to the Metlife Stadium early. The game was to start at 1 p.m. but, over an hour before the kickoff, thousands had congregated in the humongous parking area. For here’s what I learned about American football: it’s not just about the game. It’s family. It’s friends. It’s a Sunday timeout. It’s a moment to bond, to drink Bud Light, to wear blue Giants jerseys, to brave the bitter cold for warm smiles — this is a traditional American pastime.

All the parking areas were filled with people cooking barbeque, sipping beer, munching hotdogs. It’s called “tailgating” and it’s part of the whole football experience. People arrive hours before the game, they take out their portable grilling equipment and they cook. And eat. And party.

Ping-J parked the Porsche Boxster as we proceeded to the stadium. Security is tight, as what you’d expect from a gigantic event of 70,000 spectators.

With an hour to spare, Ping-J and I did the one thing you do when you’re at a game: drink beer. We ordered two bottles (in plastic cups) each. With liquor, they’re very strict here: each one is asked to present an I.D. We sat just outside the stadium’s doors and talked about Cebu, our families, biking (Ping-J has a Cannondale road bike and he pedals often).

Ping-J Villegas and I watched the New York Giants vs. Washington Redskins game last Dec. 14. I wore three layers of clothing: an inner warmer, a Uniqlo sweater and a thick Zara jacket borrowed from Dr. Ron Eullaran. Gloves covered my hands; a beanie did the same with my head. A scarf wrapped my neck. It was 4C.

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The MetLife Stadium is gigantic. It seats over 82,000, making it the second largest among the NFL teams in terms of capacity. The other Sunday, I estimate the stadium to be 80 percent full. That’s nearly 70,000 people, all jammed in the same outdoor space, all cheering for the same blue team. What’s interesting about MetLife Stadium is that it houses two NFL teams, the NY Giants and the NY Jets. Yes, America’s most populous city has two football teams and, because they play just once a week, they alternate playing in the same arena — the only NFL stadium among the league’s 32 teams that’s shared by two teams. MetLife Stadium is new; it finished in April 2010 and is reputed to be the world’s most expensive stadium at $1.6 billion.

Ping-J and I had good seats. It wasn’t all the way up (they call them ‘nosebleed’ seats) and not too close that we can’t see the formations. We paid $233 per ticket. As you’d expect, everything here is expensive. Parking costs $30 (that’s with an “S” and not in pesos.)

The Redskins scored first, on a field goal (3-0). On the succeeding play, the Giants, led by 2-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning (Peyton’s brother) threw a pinpoint pass to a sprinting catcher who ran for a touchdown. After a successful extra-point attempt (via kicking), the score was 7-3 in favor of New York.

Fans here are fanatical. They wear Giants shirts and all-blue; a popular activity is everybody standing up and waving the white towels (that were given to us for free upon entry) to cheer on the home team. What a sight: tens of thousands of Giants fans, all standing, cheering, waving the towels.

American football is physical. It’s like boxing with body padding. Giant men with Schwarzenegger-like muscles barge into each other. They slam, tackle and block the offense. They’re 11 men on each side who bump, slam, barge head-on. You see sprinters who dart onwards. You see a kicker who’s brought in to score a field goal. You see the quarterback, the leader of the team, calling the shots and passing. That’s Eli Manning.

What I’ve observed here: the people who troop to watch don’t come simply to watch. It’s more than a game; they cook barbeque at the parking lot and dine there for lunch (tailgating); they order beer and gulp a dozen; dads enjoy the company of their sons. It’s a whole American tradition every Sunday.

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You know how we get together every time Manny Pacquiao fights? It’s the same here on Sundays. For football fans, they either go to a real game to watch (and eat and get drunk), or congregate in a sports bar with friends, or they troop to someone’s house for lunch and watch the game on TV.

Back to the game: After the Giants scored a touchdown, it was the turn of their neighbors from Washington, D.C. to score theirs. By the end of two quarters, it was 10-7, advantage Redskins. That’s when the combination of Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. took over. Manning is the quarterback while Beckham Jr. is the wide receiver. Their tandem resulted in 17 more points in the 2nd half for the Giants. At game’s end, Beckham Jr. had 12 catches for 143 yards. The 22-year-old is poised to become not only the Rookie of the Year but one of NFL’s best. This month, he had dinner with LeBron and Michael Jordan and him are text-mates.

Despite the 24-13 win by the Giants, they’re lousy this season. Prior to the Redskins game, they sported a 4-9 record (which included losing seven straight from October to November). Since then, they’ve recovered (winning three in a row) and now carry a 6-9 win-loss card. As recently as 2007 and 2011, they were Super Bowl champs.

For a first-timer, what an experience for me to see this giant-sized American game.

101 hours of footall

If it sounds absurd to play nonstop football for 101 hours — that’s four days/nights straight plus five hours — it’s because, well, it is ridiculous. But, as the saying goes, “Just because something is unbelievable it does not mean you shouldn’t believe it.”

Well, you better believe it. It’s happening from Dec. 2 to 6 at the San Roque Football Field in the city led by Mayor Jonas Cortes. And it’s another Guinness World Record attempt. (Pretty soon, Cebu will amass a world record for having the most number of sports-related world records!)

Jaq Siwala is one of the lead organizers of this herculean task. We met two afternoons ago at the office and if the prospect of two teams, manned by a total of 18 players each, playing for 6,060 consecutive minutes is crazy — it is. It’s also for a wonderful cause because the proceeds will benefit children with congenital heart diseases, through the NGO called Let It Echo.

As the countdown nears for Dec. 2, we ask the Cebuano public to support this project — through donations, word-of-mouth publicity, and to visit and cheer-on these indefatigable players.

‘Banilad Boys’ and the Giuseppe U-11

Sebastian Lacson was, during college, the Ateneo Blue Eagles team captain. He swam from Europe to Africa (Strait of Gibraltar) and, just last Feb., he finished the Tokyo Marathon. But today, I yield this space because the top VECO executive writes about football. Here’s Basti’s full piece:


Few things can equal the real-life drama that sport provides. On occasion, the drama reaches such a high note that it leaves the spectator breathless, wanting no more and yet wishing it would never end. Such was my experience in Bacolod City, of all places, watching a well-coached bunch of Cebuano boys, all aged 11 or less.

Football (sorry, I cannot get myself to refer to it as “soccer”) tops the world in terms of popularity and viewership. In the Philippines, thanks to the resurgent Azkals, it is only recently that the sport has taken on a more widespread appeal. Quite possibly it is the difficulty of scoring goals that is the appeal worldwide, and the scarcity of goals (as compared to high-scoring basketball) that makes us Filipinos prefer basketball to the beautiful game.

I’m certainly no expert in football. As for live football matches, I have only seen a pair of Spanish league games and also the two times the Azkals played in Cebu. But none of them were as thrilling and delightful as the matches I saw the Giuseppe Under-11 team play at the recently concluded Ceres Cup seven-a-side invitational.

Call time was 7:00 am and the Giuseppe boys played all day until the final, which ended at 9:30 in the evening. Neither the scorching sun and the dust it conjured from the ground nor the intense afternoon shower that drenched them could wipe the determination from their little faces. They started cold in the first few games but hit their stride in the successive afternoon matches, winning one after another and making it to the semi-finals.

They beguiled all opposition with their disciplined spacing on the field, deft triangle passing patterns, sudden bursts of speed and brilliant final flourishes from prolific Yoji Selman, who scored a staggering 21 goals for the day and earned a unanimous MVP award.

It would be difficult to find a team more endearing than this one. Five of nine on the lineup in Bacolod are the Banilad Boys, so called because they study in Banilad Elementary School, next door to the Sandtrap football pitch where Giuseppe trains. These boys are as scrappy and hardy as they come. They may not have the latest in cleats or apparel, but they can outrun and outlast anyone their age or even slightly older.  If they had a motto, or if I could make one up for them, it would probably be along the lines of: play hard, complain none, and things will take care of themselves.

Rounding out the team are four boys from various schools that either don’t have a football team or who would rather come to Giuseppe to learn a more European style of playing. The glue of the team is Rachel Genco and her true passion for the game, keeping the various Giuseppe teams going through her sheer strength of character (and coffers) as well. Coach Bing Bing Colina keeps the boys in check with a studied combination of encouragement and hard work at practice.

The semi-final match was set for 7:30 pm at the well-lit North Point Ceres pitches. Standing in Giuseppe’s way was Marist School from Manila and, on average, the opposition taller than our boys. Hardly two minutes past when Yoji broke through on a pass from Enrico Yap and stroked a beauty with his left foot into the corner of the net. This match ended at 4-1, with the only opposing goal coming from a penalty kick.

By 8:15 pm, it was time for the final against a tough Corinthians team, also from Manila. Once more, our boys were dwarfed by the counterparts from Manila. Then the barrage began. Another four goals from Yoji and one from Stephen Soria and the final tally was 5-1.

So high was the quality of this display for the age of the team that a number of non-Filipino looking Ceres La Salle semi-professional players stopped our boys and sought them for pictures. Our boys being asked by the semi-pros. Yoji, for his part, had more than a few female admirers maybe twice his age all making a beeline for selfies with the young star.

After the game, an exhausted and famished Rachel could only comment that she saw an Italian-style football that day from her boys. And she liked what she saw.

Let’s be better, not bitter

Graeme Mackinnon, the Cebu Hall of Fame football coach who’s now back in Australia, sent me this email yesterday: “I am confident that the Cebu Football Association (CFA) will handle it as it should be. There is no doubt it is not the publicity football in Cebu or anywhere for that matter wants. But it’s happened and lessons HAVE to be learned so that this problem is minimized in the future.

“I read about the call for police to be at every game. OMG, what a knee-jerk reaction. How many times has this happened in the last ten years? People in the football club or school have to be responsible for their own actions and accept the consequences of those actions.

“Here (Australia) in junior football, each club or school must provide some in-house security. I don’t mean guns. etc. but appointed club officials (usually some parents from the team that is playing) wear hi-vis vests with Security on it and they are the first line of subduing any CROWD problem. The referee looks after the players. The vest means they are appointed by the club/school to represent the CFA at games and ensure the PLAY FAIR edict just as we expect the players to. Every game from the very small to the seniors there has to be a visible calming influence. The CFA would hold an induction for clubs/schools so that they would understand their responsibilities to ensure that THEIR parents and friends of the players don’t cross the line.

“Even though it is a black eye at the moment if handled correctly CFA and Cebu football will move forward stronger from the experience.”

I agree. Let’s transform the negative into positive. The shocking incident seven days ago is the “talk of the town,” even by non-soccer followers. At Casino Español last Thursday night, I sat in between Spanish Consul Anton Perdices and Andre Borromeo and our discussion centered on the controversy.

The incident has happened. That, we can’t reverse. What’s most important today is tomorrow. Graeme’s suggestions are excellent. I’m sure Pres. Ricky Dakay and the CFA Board have plenty of additional inputs.

Football is a rough game. It’s the closest thing to “allowable” physical contact. There’s a lot of shoulder-pushing. Kicks are fired, intentionally or unintentionally. Bodies slam. A goalie dives and gets smothered with a rushing knee. Arms lock. There’s bumping. Players sprint and collide.

My brother Charlie, who has organized the Thirsty Football Cup for the past 11 years, has a poster of our event which reads: “If you can’t stand football, play tennis.”

Ouch. But it’s true: Football screams “ouch!” It’s physical. More than basketball. Surely more than volleyball or swimming or running. I can think of only a few more games that involve more contact than soccer. Boxing and mixed-martial arts top the list; ice-hockey is another slam-bang game; American football and rugby are very rough.

(As a side note, on that “Photo of the Year” by Allan Cuizon, my friend Fred Quilala made a good comment. Said Fred: “The subjects have been identified except for the good samaritan in black sleeveless who separated the protagonists at the risk of getting injured. Hope he gets recognized for his unselfish efforts.”)

In the aftermath of the melee, I hope that the afflicted and aggrieved parties, facilitated by the CFA and other highly-respected and neutral personalities, can get together. To talk. To air out grievances. To apologize. To show remorse. To seek forgiveness. To give forgiveness. As the great basketball coach John Wooden once said, “Sports do not build character. They reveal it.”

Footbrawl! When the beautiful game turns ugly

Soccer is named “the beautiful game.” It’s the world’s most followed sport, with billions from Barcelona to Bacolod to Bangkok playing and watching the sport. But what happened last Sunday between A & A was despicable. It was disgraceful.

Ateneo is to blame because some of their players and companions were involved in the melee — including that adult whose caught-in-the-act stabbing was captured perfectly by the camera lens of ace photographer Allan Cuizon. Alcoy FC is to blame because they, too, engaged in the same acts of punching and physical aggression. The coaches have a duty to control their players. They also have the responsibility to calm the parents and team followers.

King Miyagi was one of those badly hurt in the scuffle. An extremely kind and respectful person (who was my daughter Jana’s former classmate and who’s now a national team member), King was attacked out of nowhere. I saw his photo yesterday and sadly, he has a huge black-eye.

The Cebu Football Association (CFA) will learn a lot from this. New rules will be enacted. Stricter enforcement — especially by the referees, whose main job is to control the proceedings — will be implemented.

But the biggest embarrassment were those parents and adults who engaged in the aggressive and brutal acts.

In his latest Full Point article, my mentor Nimrod Quiñones (a CFA board member) wrote an enlightening piece in called “Sports Parenting 101.”

Here are Nimrod’s 10 Commandments for Sports Parents…

1.    You are a parent and not the coach.
2.    You should stay away from the children while they are practicing so as not to make them lose focus.
3.    Yes, you love your child so much and want him or her well-hydrated, but running into the field to wipe their back and giving them water even if they have not been given a break is a breach of discipline.
4.    Cheer for your child, their teammates, and even their opponents. Acknowledge the good performance of the players no matter which side they play for.
5.    Winning is not everything, so don’t get angry when your child or his or her team loses.
6.    Don’t embarrass your children by fighting with other parents or worse, fighting with their opponents, who are also kids.
7.    If your child is engaged in a contact sport, expect some contact, but the good coaches and trainers can help your children minimize or avoid injuries.
8.    Do not impose yourself upon the coaches, school, or team officials even if you contribute an amount of money on a regular basis to help pay for your child’s coach or trainer.
9.    Be supportive by providing what you can in terms of equipment, refreshments, and moral support.
10.    Be a good example to your children.
Well-said, Nim. I also liked what Jack Biantan, who’s now in London, wrote the other day. He said that, sadly, this event has happened — but we have to move on. Let’s all solve this quickly, led by the CFA president Ricky Dakay. He also suggested for the teams to make amends and to apologize. Let’s not put to waste this shocking incident. Let’s all learn from it so that, looking ahead, in the heat of another sporting moment, the same won’t happen again.

Thirsty Cup: Quenching your football thirst

It started 11 years ago; a simple idea to gather footballers of all ages and sizes to one venue, one weekend, one sport. It’s the Thirsty Football Cup and, each February, the numbers have grown and ballooned. Last year, a record 340 teams joined. Multiplying that by a conservative 10 players per squad, that’s well over 3,000 players. It’s humongous.

Starting tomorrow, the 11th Thirsty Cup will kick off once again at the Cebu City Sports Center. Instead of last year’s three venues, the organizers decided on just one location for all 249 teams. This way, parents and coaches won’t have to hop, like a Sunsport football, from one spot to another.

It’s festival-type. The matches are shortened. The pitches, smaller. The players, fewer. The goal is to score goals and goals. The aim is to crowd multiple games in a brief span of time. Loud music will echo from CCSC’s speakers. Free wi-fi will allow spectators to post Instagram photos. Visitors are arriving and they’ll flood the fields. One notable visitor is “imported.” Yes. While Koreans are seen everywhere in our island, there’s one team that’s flying directly from Korea (South K. not North Korea, as we joked in the press-con). This squad is expected to land in Mactan today.

The 11th Thirsty Cup begins at 5 p.m. tomorrow and will be played throughout Friday night. By “throughout,” I mean all the way until midnight. Then, the next day, the games resume. That will last until late Saturday night. Finally, on Sunday, it’s the same day-and-night competition until the Men’s Open final game is contested late, late this weekend. (Good thing it’s a holiday on Monday!)

The Don Bosco Football Alumni group, led by Chad Songalia and Neil Montesclaros, are, as they’ve been the past decade, the lead organizers. My brother Charlie, who helped conceptualize this fast-paced event, is to be thanked for organizing the Thirsty Cup. This event is sanctioned by the Cebu Football Association, led by Engr. Ricky Dakay, Rico Navarro and the CFA board. Visit the Abellana grounds this weekend. Your thirst for this sport of Lionel Messi will surely be satisfied.

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.

Face off! Biggest day ever in Cebu football

Historic. A first. Football fever. Loud. Unprecedented. Call it whatever term you want but this fact is obvious: Today — Nov. 15, 2012 — will change football in Cebu.

“Since I am biased for football,” said my boss on these pages, editor Mike Limpag, “I think this is the biggest event here; though the Cobra Ironman 70.3 could also make a claim for that. But since this is the first time that the Philippines will play an international friendly here on a Fifa match day (other countries will be playing friendlies, too, on Nov. 15); so this really sets the bar.”

Last June — just five months ago — over dinner at the famed Marco Polo Hotel, a group of passionate footballers talked about holding an international meet here.

Ricky Dakay and Dan Palami, together with the Cebu Football Association (CFA) officers, sat in a large table with Mike Limpag. Is Cebu ready? Will the Cebu City Sports Center venue be in decent shape? Can the grass grow on time? Can we organize this gargantuan task in just a few months’ time?

The answers? Yes, yes, yes, yes. So, yes, here we arrive today. As a sports lover, I’ve never seen such buzz. For tonight’s Philippine Azkals versus Singapore Lions football game isn’t just for football fans. It’s not just soccer dads like Ariel Uy and Harry Radaza or for coaches like Joshua Fegidero and Dennis Peñalosa or for CFA officials like Glenn Quisido or Mike Veloso.

Tonight is for all fans. Sports fans. Fans who like gazing at players with movie star good looks. Cebu fans. In fact, most of the spectators tonight will be witnessing — myself included — such a large-crowd football event for the first time. Imagine over 7,000 screaming fans?

“For me, the noise-level when Stephen Schrock scored the first goal in that 2-1 home loss against Kuwait at the Rizal Memorial Stadium was really something… 13,000 fans screaming at the same time,” said Mike Limpag. “There will be half of that at the CCSC pitch, but because of the design and the adjacent buildings, it will be noisy. A group of Kaholeros led by Egay Salvacion have been practicing for weeks now to help lead the chants, and I think they will be able to get the crowd going.”

PRESS CON. I attended yesterday’s “face off” between the two head coaches, led by our own, Michael Weiss. Also in attendance were captain Chieffy Caligdong and three Cebuanos, Paolo Pascual, Ray Jonnson and Patrick Reichelt.

The impact of this event is huge. “The positive impact has began,” said Mike Limpag. “Even days before the friendly, when somebody posted a picture of the CCSC field.. the photo went viral… some were asking if the CCSC field uses artificial grass.

“With a field like this, people are suggesting that more games should be played here. Also, the Philippines is one of two countries shortlisted to host the AFC Challenge Cup game and because of what Cebu has done, some are saying that Cebu should be considered as host.. The Challenge Cup needs two stadiums, one could be the CCSC and the other, the soon-to-be finished stadium in USC.”

NIMROD. One of the key personalities of this event is Nimrod Quiñones, who commented: “This is like a dream come true for me as I have long wished for an international football event in Cebu. As a member of the CFA board, it was quite hard to put all the preparations together with only two months given to us, but several people have come forward to help us get things done. This is not just an activity of the CFA, but the whole Cebuano community. I hope that the fans would do their share of making this successful by keeping the place clean and by behaving.”

Nimrod added that several items are not allowed inside the CCSC today: Water bottles, sharp objects, lighters, matches, umbrellas, and laser pointers.

RICKY DAKAY. The man who deserves the loudest applause is Engr. Pericles Dakay (you can also call him “Doctor” as he finished a Doctorate in Engineering in the US). Ricky is a Rotarian, a family man, a civic leader, a businessman (head of the Dakay Construction), but his most important role today is as president of the CFA. All thanks to Ricky. If not for him and the new CFA Board — and that dinner talk last June — we’d be at home early tonight watching ESPN.

The Azkals arrive!

Paolo Pascual is excited. The goalkeeper of the Azkals — and a true-blooded Cebuano — calls this week a “dream come true.”

When I spoke to Paolo yesterday morning, he was in Cebu. But he wasn’t at home with his parents, doctors Joel and Chona Pascual. “We’re in Parklane Hotel where the team is staying,” he said. “Although I’m home, I have to stay with the team.”

The “team,” of course, is the most popular team that has invaded the minds and hearts of all sports lovers: the Philippine Azkals.

This week in football has never happened to Cebu before. It started with the opening of the 15th Aboitiz Cup last Sunday. That same day, a group of about 30 athletes and coaches arrived via PAL around 1:30 P.M.

Paolo Pascual is the lone home-grown Cebuano. He mentions that two others — Patrick Alcala Reichelt (who’s mom is from Alcoy) and Ray Anthony Pepito Jonsson — are also “Cebuanos.” But, since he’s the full-blooded Bisaya, everybody is asking Paolo the same question, “Where do we go?” Show me Cebu! all his teammates insist.

Upon arrival last Sunday, the team was whisked to the Aboitiz Cup opening. “Although it was rainy and muddy,” said Paolo, “we had a wonderful time. So many people, especially children, came.”

That night, they were treated to dinner by the president of the Cebu Football Association, Ricky Dakay, at The Distillery in Crossroads. Stanley Villacin was with the group.

But if we think that this trip is for sightseeing or party-going, that’s not the case. “We train at the Ateneo-Sacred Heart field. Our focus before the game is lots of training,” said Paolo.

CCSC. “It’s the best football field we’ve had at the Cebu City Sports Center,” said Ricky Ballesteros, the facility’s chieftain. Months of preparation — plus the assistance of the “grass experts” from Alta Vista and Cebu Country Club — have elevated the stadium. “We’re also lucky that the rains have been pouring,” said Ricky. “This time, the grass has really taken root. Ni gamut gyud. Green na kaayo ang field.”

Ricky expects over 7,000 spectators to flood the CCSC on Thursday. His advice? Come early. “We’re open starting 3 P.M. Also, please don’t bring your own vehicles. Ask to be dropped-off or take a taxi. This will help decongest the traffic and parking.” Although Citom will allow one-car parking on both sides of Osmeña Blvd., it’s best to lessen the number of parked cars. Or, parking at E-mall or nearby establishments is another alternative.

GRAEME. On the beauty of grass field, I got this mesage from Cebu Sports Hall of Famer Graeme Mackinnon, who’s joining us here this week:

“My lasting recollection of Cebu City Sports Center was that it sat firmly in the too hard basket. No one wanted to do anything to upgrade it. It was a dangerous dust bowl and needed political will to renovate and maintain it. Or did it?

“Maybe it needed the phenom that is the AZKALS and the promise of international football to spark Cebu from its lethargy. Led by the vision of Ricky Dakay, the CFA has transformed the dust bowl into an oasis. But is this transformation just a mirage? The complex has now been upgraded and handed to the current administration on a silver platter.

“With what I saw on Monday night, I was blown away with pride at the transformation. I hope the transformation will not be blown away due to a lack of vision. The game with Singapore will be fiesta-like and something Cebuanos will be proud of. But please don’t make it a one-off and put the CCSC back in the too hard basket.”

AYALA CENTER. I also received an e-mail from Ayala Center Cebu’s marketing executive Wilma Entera on the meet-and-greet. Said Wilma:

“PUMA brings the Azkals to Ayala Center. For those who can buy at least P1,500 worth of PUMA items, they will be given a poster that the Azkals members can sign (with a photo-op) at 1PM at the Activity Center. The following will be there: Eduard Sacapaño, Roel Gener, Jason Sabio, Nestorio Margarse, Chieffy Caligdong, Ian Araneta, Joshua Beloya, Chris Greatwich and one of the Younghusbands.”

Can we teach our children Harmony through Sports?

Yesterday’s article by sports editor Mike Limpag was like a Lionel Messi kick: it was direct, straight, razor-sharp.

The biggest losers in this controversy between the Cebu Football Association (CFA) and PAREF-Springdale? The children. They’re innocent. They just want to play.

Here are some questions: Was CFA correct to forfeit Springdale? When, according to Springdale parents whom I spoke to, the players were at the gate when the 15-minute extension expired? Upon seeing the players at the entrance, could they not have been accommodated and given the go-signal? (I can imagine the pain in the eyes of the children; you sprint to the venue, all-excited, and, at the last second, are denied to play. Your coach argues. The referee sticks to his ruling. Parents complain. Officials rebut. It’s all chaos.)

But, on the opposite side, wasn’t CFA just enforcing the rules? Doesn’t the rule state that you have to be ON THE FIELD on or before the 15th minute extension time? (I can imagine the referee looking at his wristwatch and, upon the tick of that 15th minute, blowing the whistle to announce the default… CFA argues that the referee was just doing his job.)

Here’s one more: Isn’t it also unfair to the opposing team to “accommodate” another team for being late, even for just a few seconds?

In all this: Who’s right? Who’s wrong? It depends. It depends on who you’re talking to.

Springdale will say: They’re biased. We were there! Why couldn’t they just let us play?

CFA will answer: Rules are rules! An extension was given and the time expired.

Here are more questions… Was Springdale’s reaction to withdraw ALL of their teams from the 14th Aboitiz Cup not exaggerated? Did they not anticipate a harsh rebuke? Did Springdale decide on their forceful “let’s-all-withdraw” act purposely to incite a fight with the CFA? Surely, they anticipated, pulling out midway through Cebu’s most prestigious football event will have severe repercussions…

Talking about “severe,” here’s one query, this time, for the CFA: Isn’t the three-year ban too harsh? Imagine banning one of the country’s most successful football programs for three years?!

Wow. How do you explain this to the hundreds of athletic and eager and active boys of Springdale? You can’t. Now, while I believe Springdale was too hasty on their “let’s-withdraw-from-Aboitiz” move, wasn’t CFA also guilty of the same? Thirty six months! Banning the children? This is preposterous.

I saw a copy of the letter from CFA President, Engr. Richard Montayre, addressed to Ric R. Ampiloquio, Executive Director of PAREF-Springdale, and, true enough, it stated a specific provision of the “3 years up to life time ban…”

First of all, this “banning for three years or more” ruling is crazy. I know, I know. The CFA Board will say… this is done to prevent teams from just brazenly pulling out. True. But here’s a question…

Why wasn’t a formal inquiry or meeting conducted prior to the tyrannical 36-month ban? I mean, how difficult is it to call together both parties and talk?

Was this not done because, as Mike Limpag pointed out yesterday, there’s a deeper, underlying conflict between the two camps, CFA vs. the Cebu Amateur Football Club (CAFC) included? I think so. Because if there was no “bad blood” between the two, this issue could have been settled amicably.

CFA could have called Springdale for a meeting and explained the possible harsh sanctions. CFA could have, “inamigo-style,” asked them to reconsider. A compromise could have been arrived at. Conflict, resolved.

Let’s play ball! would have been the happy yell. Instead, sadly, the one playing is…. drum roll, please…

Politics. Ugly, ugly politics in sports.

My suggestion? Sit down. Relax. Smile. Begin with a prayer. Look at the “bigger picture” and know that the ones who’ll suffer in this uncalled-for fight are the children.

Let’s show them that, as God-loving adults and parents, we can resolve conflicts. Let’s resolve this conflict. It’s the best lesson we can teach our children.

The Azkals are good — and looking good

Girls dream of convincing James and Phil to be their young husbands. The Fil-Brit brothers are rockstar-famous. They’re celebrities in today’s hottest entertainment called football. My wife Jasmin calls them “hot.” Quinito Henson has a new term for the PHL squad: “The Beatles.” Mobbed by Ilonggas, their shirts pulled, their hands wearied with autograph-signing, their photos plastered on pink bedroom walls, the female population is obsessed.

This craze began when the Azkals shockingly beat Vietnam, tied with Singapore, and reached the semifinals of the AFF (Suzuki) Cup last December. It reached a climax last Wednesday night when the fireworks erupted at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod.

These footballers are good. But more than good, they’re good-looking. And this is what fuels their popularity. In the same way that all movie stars except Pokwang are pretty, we assume the same with our athletic heroes: we adore them because of their incredible prowess on the sports arena.

And, even better, if they’re beautiful, we worship them. Consider Anna Kournikova. She is more famous than 97.5 percent of the world’s female athletes–not because she’s won 38 events (she has zero singles titles)–but because of her Russian beauty and curvaceous Jessica Alba-like body.

Michael Jordan is the same. The reason why he topped the No. 1 ranking as the all-time greatest is not solely because of his acrobatics wearing the Chicago Bulls jersey, it’s because he’s the complete package. He’s got the tools, the Nike goods, the look.

David Beckham, in People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive 2010,” is right there alongside Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio. Sure, the former England captain is adroit and dexterous. His feet are good. But his face—as millions will agree–is even better looking.

Which brings me back to Neil Etheridge, Alex Borromeo, Simon Greatwich, Jason de Jong, James and Phil and the other Azkals. These guys are good, no doubt. Did you see the in-between-the-legs goal stung by Chieffy Caligdong? That was like Manny Pacquiao’s left hook on Ricky Hatton. Or how about, just seconds before the final whistle by the referee to end the game at 1-0, a curving shot by Phil Younghusband that penetrated the goal line and erupted a nationwide scream which reverberated from Davao to Mandaue to Barotac Nuevo?

Football, beginning this 2011, will reach heights to rival basketball and boxing. The reason? Football is grass-roots. If you study closely the elementary and high school students–in Cebu’s private schools, for example—the most-played sport is not basketball–it’s soccer. It’s what five-year-olds dribble. The game of the foot, not hand. Parents of Springdale and Sacred Heart-Ateneo and Bright Academy and Don Bosco and USC and many more are soccer moms and dads. The Azkals give these youngsters their Super Heroes. Which brings me to the “celebrity” discussion. These Azkals boys have an opportunity to be much more famous than their PBA 6-footer counterparts. They have a chance to achieve movie star-like prominence.

How? One example: The “tweet” sent by Phil Younghusband to Angel Locsin. In a Twitter message delivered the day after the Azkals win over Mongolia, he said: “Hi Angel! This Phil. How are you? I was just wondering if you are free for Valentines day?”

This public announcement during this love month rippled throughout the showbiz world—in particular, to the millions of non-sports Pinoy fans. This was juicy. Kilig. A top story for Boy Abunda. Then, not long after, Angel responded with her own Twitter message: “hi! this is angel? Congrats on your win last night! Tnx for the invite but I have work on valentines.. Let’s try another day?”

My point? These non-sports acts are perfect for sports. By fueling tsismis, by creating gossip, Phil—off the field—has excited our nation.

Good. Good PR. Good-looking. Good for football.

Football and Football: These games are super

At the same Cowboys Stadium in Texas where Manny Pacquiao annihilated Antonio Margarito and Joshua Clottey, it was a national holiday yesterday.

The Super Bowl. For many of the 310 million Americans, no game or entertainment or party is bigger. That’s in America. Because here in Cebu, when I clicked open the TV set at 7:30 a.m. yesterday, nothing super was shown. A replay of the Australian Open mixed doubles final was broadcasted on Star Sports. It was the UEFA Champions League featuring Barcelona in the Balls Channel. Golf was presented in Solar Sports.

Nothing super. There was no American football. Too bad. The Super Bowl, for the past years and if my nearly 39-year-old brain still remembers correctly, has always been shown on cable TV. Not Super Bowl XLV. Not the Green Bay Packers versus the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It was one super ballgame, though. I followed it via the ESPN website and New York Times’ real-time blog. The GB Packers led by as much as 21-3. Surely, with that lopsided score, it’s a guaranteed win. But, no, the Steelers, led by Ben Roethlisberger–infamous for his sex-related charges–rallied in the second half to make the score, 21-17. Plus, sometime in the 4th quarter, they had ball possession. But a fumble by Rashard Mendenhall condemned their fate. In the end, with GB quarterback Aaron Rogers doing an Aa+ effort, it was the Packers who win the NFL crown, 31-25.

Of the multitude of sporting events I’ve watched live, American football remains one of the few I’d love to see with my bare eyes. NFL games are thrilling. You see passes, runs, tackles, interceptions, punts, blitzes. Plus there are a myriad of interesting terms like fumble, incomplete pass, kneel, red zone, safety, trick play. This sport presents so many scenarios. Would be a fascinating experience to watch it live.

Back to our no-show here in Cebu, sayang. I hope, the very least, replays are shown. Because, apart from the stirring finish, I’d like to watch the half-time show. The Black Eyed Peas performed with Usher. Same with Christina Aguilera, who sang the national anthem (and made a blunder–ala Christian Bautista—by singing the lyrics wrongly).

FOOTBALL. Speaking of another sport with a similar name, it was the Thirsty Football Cup last weekend at the Cebu City Sports Center. An estimated 2,500 players involving 243 teams participated.

This event started in 2004 when my younger brother Charlie teamed up with Neil Montesclaros, Chad Songalia and a few others from Don Bosco to introduce a quicker and more intense type of play: Festival Football.

Instead of the prolonged 90-minute games that involve only two teams and a giant-sized rectangle of a field, this idea was radical. Loud music blared. Five-year-olds kicked. And, if there’s a category for the young ones, there, too, was one for the once young: a 36-and-under division. After the whistle blew, only 15 minutes of play ensued. It was speedy and rapid-fire. And, since the field was tiny, players would propel their bodies faster, pass hurriedly, bolt and charge after opponents in a rush.

Last weekend was the same. Only bigger. (As Graeme Mackinnon, who arrived last Saturday from Australia, observed his former pupils from Springdale: “They’ve grown so tall after eight years I can hardly recognize them!”)

AZKALS. Inside the Abellana football grounds, all the talk, of course, was about this Thursday. Plenty are traveling to Bacolod. Mike Limpag and Noel Villaflor–our resident soccer experts on these back pages–are leaving this early morning. We also saw Dr. Joel Pascual. His son–Paolo Pascual (replace the “a” with an “i” and you get another superstar’s name)–is one of the goalies of Team Philippines. When we spoke last Saturday, Joel beamed with a full smile. He has reason to be proud of his son.

If not for a tight schedule here, it would be nice to sip batchoy at 21 Restaurant, gobble up the pitso and atay at Chicken House, and watch those “stray dogs” beat Mongolia.