Category Archives: Football

Scary Jakarta expedition for an Azkal fan

Miguel Larrauri is a football devotee. He’s more than a follower—he’s a zealot, fanatic, activist. He worships the football on an altar. Last December 15, Miguel flew to Jakarta. He watched the PHL Azkals play the Indonesian team in Game One of the AFF Suzuki Finals. From Cebu, he was, quite possibly, the only person to witness the game first-hand.

“I have experienced many football games in my life including a championship between bitter rivals Real Madrid and Barca in the Camp Nou,” said Miguel, “but it could not compare to the atmosphere inside the Stadium Utama Gelora Bung Karno.”

When I asked Miguel how much he adores the game of Pele and Maradona, his email reply summed it all: “I LOVE FOOTBALL!!!! I have loved it ever since I first played football. You see, I come from a family of football players. I don’t mean just my immediate family members, but even my cousins and close family friends. We would play in the beach or any park we could play in.”

The excursion to Jakarta? “I got myself to Indonesia to watch our boys play because I really felt they could beat them. I wanted to watch the eliminations in Vietnam but could not go due to work. My brother and I helped arrange the team meeting with President Noynoy Aquino on Monday, Dec. 13, in Malacañang Palace.

“Then, we had dinner with the team that evening in The Fort. I stayed with the team in the Sultan Hotel in Jakarta and watched them train. I could only watch the first game but that was good enough for me. The team was very positive and truly believed they could beat the Indonesians. Sadly, the Indonesian team had twelve players on the field versus our 11. By that, I mean the crowd in that stadium. They truly love their team and they will boo you to death.

“I came out of the dugout with the Philippine flag over my shoulders before the game and the crowd booed me as if I was giving them the finger. I literally had to wear a jacket to cover my Philippine jersey to get to my seat or else the crowd might just throw something at you. Luckily I was staying in the VIP section and the president of Indonesia was five rows behind me. Getting out of the stadium was another story. If we won, it would have been very dangerous but ‘El Loco’ Gonzales made sure it did not end that way.”

In our talk yesterday while he was vacationing in Boracay, Miguel described the Jakarta experience as frightening. The trip from the hotel to the football stadium, he said, was only a five-minute walk. But the players took the bus, complete with police escort, and it took them 30 minutes.

“All the streets, all around, everywhere,” Miguel said, “it was filled with Indonesians. And, believe me, I never saw ‘the finger’ so much in my life! These Indonesians fans were rowdy. It was scary.”

That Game One morning, the Azkals assistant coach Aris visited the stadium. “He made a mistake by wearing the Philippine jersey,” said Miguel. “He was chased by about 10 to 15 Indonesians straight to the hotel!”

Miguel, who played football varsity for Ateneo de Manila University for 12 years (“from Grade 4 until I graduated in college,” he said), wanted to celebrate his team by painting the PHL flag on his cheeks. Absolutely not! he was warned.

Even the Filipinos in Jakarta, knowing the craze and fanaticism of football in Indonesia, were cautious with their cheering for the Azkals. “After that first game, as expected, our players were kinda down. Etheridge felt guilty; there was a miscommunication between him and the defense that resulted in Gonzales’ goal. It was so loud inside the stadium,” said Miguel. “After the game, I arranged for a team dinner with the expat community. We ate at a German restaurant called Die Stube. There was a big community of Filipinos there. But, here’s the funny part. Many of the Filipinos did not watch the game live. They were scared. Many were told not to go. Instead, they gathered in a coffee shop to watch. Everybody was praning.”


“I love football!!!! I have loved it ever since I first played football. You see, I come from a family of football players. I don’t mean just my immediate family members, but even my cousins and close family friends. We would play in the beach or any park we could play in. luckily I went to school in ATENEO DE MANILA and we had BROTHER OZCARIS there. He formed Lightning Football and this is what made ATENEO produce a lot of good players. It was called lightning football cause it was fast and short football. It was played during lunch time in the Ateneo grade school field. We only had 15 minutes to play. It was classroom vs. classroom and I was the top scorer almost every year. Brother Ozcaris noticed me right away and asked me to join the RIFA MIDGETS C TEAM when I was grade 4. Well, from that year until the year I graduated from college, I played every year in the varsity team of ATENEO. That was for 12 great years!

“When I went to high school, my mentor became Cris Monfort and this guy believed in me. He took time off to train me just by himself and this really boosted my self confidence. On my second year in high school, he accelerated me from Aspirant B (taking me away from my batch mates who I had been playing with since grade school) to the Candidates team which was usually all seniors. To make things even more difficult for me, he made me first eleven and put me as the winger or right forward position. I was not really a skilled dribbler or had fancy footwork. What I had was pure speed and a killer’s instinct to score a goal.  During the COKE GO FOR GOAL tournament in Barotac, I played for the NCR team and I scored my 2 most memorable goals of my life in one game there. Playing in Barotac is one hell of an experience for a young boy. First of all, unlike in manila where maybe 20 people will watch a game, in Barotac 2000 people will watch a game and even the lolas will know what an offside trap is. Over there, if you were good, the kids will ask for your autograph, just in case you get famous in the future.

“In college, my mentor was not only Cris Monfort, but also Bert Honasan. I played for the Ateneo UAAP team for 4 great years. I never won a UAAP medal for football but I actually won 2 UAAP medals for track and field, both in the 4×100 meter relay. GO FIGURE.  After college, I joined first division and kept playing competitively till I got married. I even formed a couple of first division teams like LE COQ SPORTIF, MEGAWORLD, EMPIRE EAST, and ICTSI. I played one year in the Philippine Youth team and 2 years in the men’s team. My football days kinda ended when I broke my back and my L4 vertebrae started to subloxate or move interiorly. But my passion for football never ended.

“I always supported the Philippine team and actually would hire some of them to play in the first division teams I formed. During the 2006 SEAG games, I went to Bacolod to support the azkals. During that tournament, we already had the so called FIL-AMS (I don’t understand why they were referred to as that when they were mostly from England) like the Younghusband brothers. Aly Borromeo was already in the team then and he was actually my teammate a few years earlier when he joined our team during the MINI WORLD CUP in Nomads.”


“The result was huge, huge. I’ve never seen this kind of attention on Phil. football. The games were shown on TV. During the Suzuki Cup, the bars and restaurants were full—everyone was watching. It was like a Manny Pacquiao fight. In fact, the ratings during those games were higher than the PBA games. Plus, the Mizuno shirts were all sold out. This is nice to see. What’s important is this: we should not let go of the momentum.”

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.

Graeme Mackinnon on tonight’s PHL vs IND Part 2

Australian-born with blue Aussie blood running in his veins, he is Filipino by heart. Graeme Mackinnon, who coached football in Cebu for 14 years before jumping back to Kangaroo Country, was my former co-columnist at The Freeman. Both an expert at soccer and writing, I yield this space to Graeme…

“FIRE THE BARK UP, AZKAL FANS! Tonight, the AZKALS will attempt to go where Philippine football has never gone before. A 1 nil loss against Indonesia means that the AZKALS need to win to make the final of the Suzuki Cup. They don’t need to win during regulation time they just need to be tied. After extension if it’s still a tie then a penalty shoot-out will determine the winner. I thought the boys played well. After conceding the only goal of the game in the 34th minute they made sure not concede any late goals.

“Most sports are a game of inches. Neil Etheridge has been a revelation between the sticks. He has been the rock foundation on which the AZKALS confidence and belief have grown. The game against Indonesia was no different. He had stood tall behind an overworked AZKAL’s defense that was beginning to frustrate the Indonesians and quiet the crowd. But in the 34th minute it all changed as an innocuous curving center from the left eluded the outstretched hands of Etheridge by a matter of inches. Indonesia’s Christian Gonzalez headed the goal. In the dying stages of the game, an overhead shot from James Younghusband was cleared inches from the line by a desperate Indon defender; a matter of inches causing heartbreak twice for the AZKALS.

“AZKALS coach Simon McMenemy is correct. It’s not time to panic. The result is based over two games so it’s only half time. The AZKALS have to concentrate. First, is to get back on level terms with Indonesia by scoring first. It won’t matter at what time in the game. There are 90 minutes to do it. An early AZKAL goal would be ideal. The Indonesian’s will want a goal to calm their own nerves. The crowd will get frustrated the longer the AZKALS can hold the Indons out. A hostile home crowd can be an advantage for the AZKALS.

“I thought the AZKALS finished stronger than Indonesia with many of their players going down with cramps. There is only a three day turnaround so the Indons may have some aching muscles. One of the problems with the offense, especially as we were getting closer to full time, was the lack of peripheral vision of some players who tried to do it all. There were times when a switch of play, to stretch the Indon defense, or a through ball could have been a better option. But as they say the game is easy when you are in the sala watching it on TV. Tonight, we witness Philippine football history. Tune in to Start Sports at 7:55 p.m.

Azkals: No longer the stray dogs of football

If you’re a soccer aficionado, rejoice. In this game of kicking, we kicked a$$! Not since decades ago has our Philippines been as celebrated in international soccer. One game changed all that. Against the defending ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup champions, Vietnam—played on their home grass in Hanoi amidst 40,000 Vietnamese—we stunned the hosts. Nobody expected it. We won, 2-0. But we won much, much more: the lavish attention now spotlighted on PHL.

After three games at the Suzuki Cup, we were never defeated. In our first game against Singapore, the score was 1-all, thanks to the great Chris Greatwich, who scored during injury time. In Game 2, the upset win against Vietnam; and, last Wednesday, the zero-all draw against Myanmar.

“Honestly, it’s still kind of surreal,” said our team captain Ali Borromeo. “Nobody ever thought that we could beat Vietnam,” added Dan Palami, the team manager-turned-hero who hails from Tacloban. “We keep on dreaming and we keep on dreaming we can do it.”

Yes. This is what sport is all about. The ability to dream the insurmountable—and to make that vision of the unreal… real. Consider that our Philippine squad was the laughingstock of soccer. Would you believe that, just a few years back, we were ranked 189 out of 208 nations. We were in the top 10 percent… of the world’s worst football-playing countries.

Today, our FIFA world ranking should be nearing 140. Obviously, that’s nowhere near Manny Pacquiao’s No.1 rating in boxing, but it’s a major jump and promotion. We should feel proud. Ecstatic. Shout… Yahoo! Yet, we should also feel concerned. Our semi-final opponents, Indonesia, boasting a population of 238 million versus our 92, is a powerhouse. In three AFF Suzuki Cup games, they won all: a 5-1 thrashing of Malaysia, a 6-0 victory against Laos, and a 2-1 score against Thailand.

What’s worse in the upcoming Dec. 16 and 19 semifinal games between PHL and IND is that both will be played in Indonesia. It’s supposed to be one home-court game per nation (home-and-away format) but—given that none of our arenas meet the AFF standards—then it’s “sorry nalang.”

Our Philippine Football Federation (PFF) requested for the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City—the venue of the 2005 SEA Games and the 2006 AFF Qualifying—to host our game. Sadly, this was turned down by the AFF, owing our minimal seating capacity, among other issues.

“This is a disaster,” said Phil Younghusband in an interview with The Inquirer. “We’re absolutely gutted. We have to play at home if we really want to promote the sport.” Added his older brother, James: “What’s the point of making the semifinals if we can’t play at home?” Coach Simon McMenemy said, “The players worked so hard and not playing at home is absolutely criminal.”

Both games will be played in Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta, a cavernous complex seating 88,000. It’s not only listed as the largest in Southeast Asia—it’s the 10th biggest football stadium in the world.

This “home-court disadvantage” is painful for two reasons. One, the boisterous Filipino crowd would have given the Azkals a huge lift. From Davis Cup tennis to the NBA to the Olympics, home-court advantage is important; the influence, tremendous.

Two, it’s a loss for Philippine football. Imagine the impact. Imagine the boost to football. I, for one, with sportswriters Nimrod, Mike, Noel, Max, Edri and Rico, plus hundreds of other Cebuanos would have driven to Bacolod. The positive bounce of such a significant event—wow, that’s immense.

But, let’s not dwell on what-could-have-beens. The game, as announced, will be in Indonesia. This means one thing: The odds are that, seven days from today, we go home defeated. Those are the statistics. But those same odds also said we’d never beat Vietnam. Maybe, just maybe, our squad, given the nothing-to-lose mentality and buoyed by the Vietnam upset… will win. Who knows? The football is round. If an azkal like Manny can do it for boxing, who says these Pinoys can’t?

Graeme, Max, Mike and Noel on ‘ASKALS’

After Donaire and Pacquiao, it’s football as our men’s team are the latest sports heroes. Want to know how our squad got its nickname, ASKALS?

Max Limpag, the ultra-marathon man who ran 50K the other Saturday, was a former soccer fanatic. Here’s his story…

“In July 2005, I got into a discussion with former FC Korsaaven (that’s the name of our college team in UP Diliman) football teammate Noel Villaflor and former Sun.Star Cebu sports reporter Glenn Michelina on the moniker for the Philippine football team.

“In an online forum on football, someone suggested calling them askals. We laughed at first but then thought it could be a good moniker. I said we were askals because we lack football pedigree. I think it was Noel who said it’s also a good play on Calle Azul because the Philippine team color is blue. We were also askals in a way because the team was abandoned by government and lacked needed support.

“Glenn Michelina then did a quick drawing of a logo of a fierce-looking dog with the country’s colors. Noel submitted it to the forum and I blogged about it in my site. I didn’t know the moniker would stick after all these years. But one that didn’t stick was “irbogs” for irong buang, which we proposed to call people like ourselves, rabid die-hard fans.”

The brother of Max—our sports editor, Mike Limpag—wrote an expanded version of the ASKALS story five years ago. “Fans want RP booters to be named ‘Askals,’” here’s Mike’s article…

“THE Netherlands has the Orangemen, France is Les Bleus, and Italy has the Azures. Philippine football fans want to call their national team Askals.

“The menacing street dog has just been elevated to national icon status after a few fans threw around an idea on what to call the national team in an Internet forum dedicated to Philippine football.

“Names like Tamaraws and Eagles came up first before the fans agreed on Askal, short for asong kalye or street dog.

“The idea started after national coach Aries Caslib appealed for more fan participation in the 23rd Southeast Asian Games (Seag), where the country will try to win its first medal in football.

“Caslib appealed for vocal support after seeing how the other countries supported their teams in last year’s Tiger Cup.

“One fan has come up with an Askal logo, and plans to have it reproduced on shirts and flags are being discussed by regular posters Graeme Mackinnon, Paul Weiler and others.

“Even coach Caslib is on with the idea: “I want to know if the design for the Askal is final because we might help in producing the shirts,” he told Sun.Star Cebu in an earlier interview.

“As to whether the national team will be as menacing as the street dog is left to be seen as they are still to test their readiness in a pre-Seag tournament in Vietnam before leaving for a month-long training in China.”

Thanks Max and Mike. More on the football hysteria, I sought the commentary of Graeme Mackinnon. Australian-born but—after 14 years here—Cebuano by heart, Graeme had this reaction:

“One win and the Philippines has woken up to football. Such is the impact of that historic win by the AZKALS 2-0 over highly-fancied Vietnam. We are still in the group stage and hopefully overnight the AZKALS have booked their place in the semi-finals of the AFF Suzuki Cup. There has been a tsunami-like groundswell of support for the AZKALS. The country is experiencing international football fever the likes of which we haven’t seen before. There are new AZKAL logos, musical anthems on YouTube and AZKAL tributes on Facebook. Facebook is in meltdown. There are just so many people talking about the team.

“AZKAL coach Simon McMenemy was criticized by Vietnam’s coach Henrique Calisto for his tactics. McMenemy’s tactics were correct. He knows the strengths and weaknesses of his team and set his tactics accordingly. His foundation for the win was the defense. If they don’t score then the AZKALS don’t lose. As the highly-favoured Vietnamese became more frustrated, the AZKAL counterattacks took advantage of the holes in the Vietnamese defense. Calisto had no answer to the AZKAL tactics and so his criticism smacks of sour grapes. So fire the bark up and be loud and proud of the Philippine AZKALS football team!”

MORE. Read the blog of Rick Olivares at

In Hong Kong, what’s kicking is football

Each time I visit a foreign land, apart from snapping an estimated 585 photos, tasting eccentric local delicacies and absorbing each waking minute of the strange territory, I do one more act: I read the local newspaper.

While in Hong Kong for over a week until yesterday, I read two dailies: the South China Morning Post (which dates back to 1903 and should be Hong Kong’s top journal) and The Standard.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) is huge. While our Sun.Star is suitably-sized for a metropolis like Cebu and, in comparison, both the Phil. Daily Inquirer and Phil. Star are bigger because they’re national, the SCMP is giant-sized. It covers stories not just of the seven-million-strong Hong Kong residents, but of China’s 1.324-billion population. It’s XL-size for a XXXL nation.

You need not ask which section I devour the most. The front page, obviously, I scan first, but within a minute of browsing, I flip the gray pages open to find the back, sports section. What did I uncover in Hong Kong? Plenty. One: that sports is aplenty. On Sundays, they devote a whopping eight pages to everything about the NBA playoffs, Rafa Nadal, the New York Yankees, etc.

Horse racing? Ah, of course. Last Wednesday, they devoted 12 pages (yes, one dozen!) to a sport I’d rather term as “gambling”… RACING. But, above all, one sport outkicks everybody else: Soccer. Maybe because the World Cup is just 46 days away or because Hong Kong was under British rule (and aren’t they a football-crazy people) for about 156 years. Hong Kong is Soccer Crazy.

Scanning yesterday’s South China Morning Post, the headline read: Ronaldo confident Real will win league title. “The Portuguese forward,” it read, “signed from Manchester United last summer, has been overshadowed in recent weeks by the sparkling form of Barca’s Leo Messi, but he feels that it will be Real who will come out on top in the fight for the title.”

Below the all-football-page was Soccer on TV Today which showed the full schedules of the world’s most popular sport. Another article was about David Beckham and how he reigns as world’s highest-earning footballer, pocketing US$40 million per year, mainly from sponsors like Giorgio Armani, Motorola and Adidas. The No. 2 top-earner is Cristiano Ronaldo at $30 million/year… “Ronaldo, the 2008 Fifa Player of the Year, became the highest-paid soccer player in the world in June when Real Madrid bought the 25-year-old winger from Manchester United for $130 million.”

With my compatriots—their columnists—I read two: Alvin Sallay and Jason Dasey (both of whom are terrific, as expected of a paper with this high-quality). Their columns? About football, of course.

From last Friday’s SCMP was the story on Mario Balotelli. In the article, I’ll be special: Balotelli, the 19-year-old Inter Milan sensation was quoted as saying, “Psychologically I am as I was before. I’m ready to become the best in the world.” Wow, what bravado from the teenager.

Forbes ranks United richest team in world was another piece that said, “English champions Manchester United have been ranked the most valuable sports team by Forbes magazine for the sixth year in a row.” How much was ManU valued? A whopping $1.8 billion. The second placer is the Dallas Cowboys (remember where Manny Pacquiao last fought, in their stadium?) with $1.65B followed by the New York Yankees at $1.5B.

Finally, from last week, a feature on North Korea and how, after 44 years, it’s going back to the World Cup. “In less than two months’ time, it is hard to imagine the footballers from the one of the world’s most closed nations being granted any greater freedom when they turn up in South Africa for the World Cup,” said one paragraph. The passion for the sport in North Korea is unparalleled, a status which owes much to the success of the team that represented the country at the 1966 old Cup finals.”
Soccer in Hong Kong, I’ve learned, is their sports counterpart of the Peking Duck.

Vote for Mike

Hi everyone! Would like to ask that you visit this website,, and scroll down to find the article of Sun.Star Cebu’s sports editor, Mike Limpag. He’s joining a contest with the winner (Mike’s a football fanatic!) going to South Africa for the World Cup.You just need to click the thumbs up sign beside Mike’s name for the vote to count. Let’s all help Mike…


FIFA World Cup in South Africa

Unlike Jackie Lotzoff, Jim Akiatan, Dr. Stanley Villacin, Rachel Genco, Ariel Uy, and Chad Songalia, I’m no huge football devotee. My adulation for soccer heightens only once every 48 months. Well, guess what? That event which I never miss is coming soon… as in four months soon. It’s the World Cup! Is there anything bigger, more celebrated and glorified?

Having just watched an overdose of football the past weekend during the 7th Thirsty Cup, I’d like to pursue getting this kick out of soccer. Thanks to the internet, I researched simple FAQs for the ordinary football pupil…

The FIFA World Cup will be held for the first time in South Africa. It commences on June 11 (that’s 121 days from today) and ends on July 11th. A total of 32 national teams are playing. The most successful countries since the WC began in 1930? Brazil has won five, Italy four, Germany three, Argentina and Uruguay two apiece, and France and England once each. Interestingly, while there have been 19 World Cups in the past (and a total of 204 who attempted to qualify this year), only these seven nations managed a WC victory.

In South Africa (the first African nation to host the WC), nine cities will host the games. The game schedules this June? There are three main time slots. And since South Africa is six hours delayed from RP time, the TV schedules will be as follows (RP time): 7:30 p.m. (perfect!), 10:00 p.m. (excellent!) and 2:30 a.m. (too late!). The July 11 final, to be held in the 94,900-seater stadium named “Soccer City” in Johannesburg, will be at 2:30 a.m.–which many diehard Cebuanos will, for sure, watch. (With these favorable time schedules for us, I’m sure plenty of enterprising restaurant and bar owners will feature the games.)

Ticket prices? The average price is $139 (around P6,500). But, for South African residents, they have a special rate of tickets at only $20. How many tickets are available? Around three million tickets for the WC’s 64 matches. One-third (a million) will go to South African fans, another million to international visitors, and the third million to sponsors, teams and “the FIFA family.”

How many tickets have been sold so far? Over 2,000,000 tickets have been gobbled up in three of the five ticket selling phases. The fourth phase, coincidentally, starts today (Feb. 9), with over 400,000 available on a first-come, first-served basis ( This is one of the last opportunities for fans to secure tickets.

How popular is the WC? According to Wikipedia, “The World Cup was first televised in 1954 and is now the most widely-viewed and followed sporting event in the world, exceeding even the Olympic Games. The cumulative audience of all matches of the 2006 World Cup is estimated to be 26.29 billion. (A total of) 715.1 million individuals watched the final match of this tournament (a ninth of the entire population of the planet). The 2006 World Cup draw, which decided the distribution of teams into groups, was watched by 300 million viewers.”

Prize money? It’s huge. A total of $420 million. The semifinalists get $20 million, the runners-up, $24 million, and the champions… a mighty $30 million!

3D? Sure. Using Sony technology, FIFA have revealed that up to 25 games at World Cup 2010 will be filmed in 3D.

Funny question: In the website, this query was posed: “Are there lions in the streets?” Ha-ha. The reply: “Er, no. But if you want to see wild animals, you won’t have to go far to do so. An hour’s drive from such urban jungles as Pretoria and Johannesburg, you can see lions, elephants, buffalo and hundreds more species in their natural environments.”

Finally… Nelson Mandela, speaking during World Cup draw last December, said: “The people of Africa learnt the lesson of patience and endurance in their long struggle for freedom. May the reward brought by the World Cup prove that the long wait for its arrival on African soil has been worth it… KE NAKO! It’s time.”

Why the 7th Thirsty Cup scores a kick

Football is popular in Cebu. This I learned the past 36 hours. When I entered the Cebu City Sports Center last Friday night, hundreds of pairs of spiked shoes and knee-high socks greeted my eyes. Yesterday morning, it was the same soccer-frenzy sight: girls kicking, boys sprinting towards the steel goal, coaches shouting, goalies jumping to stop a score…

The world’s No.1 sport is widespread and celebrated in the Philippines’ No.1 city. Take the 7th Thirsty Football Festival, a smorgasbord of 209 teams and 2,500 participants. All of them Cebuanos? No. Plenty arrived on our shores coming from Tubigon, Dumaguete, Tanjay, San Carlos, Iligan, Tacloban and Bacolod. Outside Manila, this event is possibly the largest gathering of footballers. My observations from the Thirsty Cup?

Football and music mix well. Who says you can’t play Boom-Boom Pow while the game is on? At the Thirsty event, hip-hop tunes scream loud from the loudspeakers. And what a fabulous idea. For today’s children are lovers of music; when their favorite songs are heard reverberating throughout the complex, it invigorates the players.

Football is best in the dark. Night games? Sure, why not. Thanks to the gleaming lights inside the Abellana grounds, darkness was transformed into daylight the past two evenings. Last Friday, the games extended until….. 11:30 p.m.

Too late for sports? Nah. As Steve Jobs proclaimed… “Think Different.” I say night games (possibly of any sport) is a superb plan. Minus the intense heat of the 12:30 p.m. sun, playing below the stars  means quicker running without squinting one’s eyes. This idea, I believe, was started in Cebu by the Thirsty event organizers: my brother Charlie, top organizer Neil Montesclaros, and the current president of the Don Bosco Alumni Football Club, Chad Songalia.

Quick Football. The concept of the “Football Festival” is unlike the World Cup games, for example, where 90 minutes are allotted per game. With this “festival,” it’s a brisk and spirited 15 minutes. After a short 7.5 minutes, the two squads change sides. This means that every second matters.

Bad? Well, yes, there’s nothing like the full game. Good? Well, yes, because more games are multiplied and everybody gets to play (especially our out-of-town visitors) in a short span of two days/two nights.

Football is for the family. I know plenty of dads who join the tournament. Their sons join, too. The grandfather of those sons watch the games. Lola brings the food and drinks. The other grandchildren come and cheer. So does the yaya. Plus the classmates. In football, everybody’s present.

Football is for the young. At the Thirsty Cup, the youngest category is the 6-years-and-under bracket. Yesterday, when I arrived at 10 a.m., I was fortunate to have met the finalists for this category. The champion team was the M. Lhuillier squad, composed mainly of children aged five and six years old. The runners-up? They were the San Roque Football Club who, upon a simple check, appeared much smaller. When I asked why, I found out that they had a three-year-old player and, unbelievably, one who was only two years old!

The MLDSF 6-and-under team with their coach (right) and Thirsty owner Bunny Pages

This, I’ve realized, is the superiority of soccer. Since it’s a team sport, one doesn’t have to possess advanced technical skills to join (unlike, for example, tennis or golf). If you can kick, you can join. That two-year-old, Marco Colina (the son of former top player Totot Colina), is the perfect example.

Football is for the once-young. Never mind if football is a highly physical (and injury-inducing) sport where, very often, elbows poke and kicks wallop and shoulders bump, one of the most popular categories is the 40-years-and-older division. The tournament’s oldest player? According to the records, there was one 61-year-old.

Isn’t this amazing? In the same soccer field of the same tournament, a two-year-old toddler kicks and runs like that 61-year-old grandfather.

Thirsty? This Football Festival quenches thirst

An article I wrote two years ago….

Football is the No.1 sport in my daughter’s school, Bright Academy. It’s no. 1 in Don Bosco. In CIS. In Springdale. In Sacred Heart School-Jesuit. Football is the No.1 sport in Asia. In South America. In Germany, Spain, England, France and even in a remote and tiny municipality in our own Panay Island called Barotac. And, in this round, celestial object floating in the universe called Earth, the no.1 sport is the same round, celestial object named soccer.

Take my daughter Jana. She’s the only child I have (so far), and she, of course, is a she—she’s a girl. And girls are NOT allowed to play football, right? There’s a law banning girls from kicking each other, right? And striking that ball with one’s head?

Ha-ha-ha, I know. Am I from another planet? you’d ask. But seriously, wasn’t football—during our time, when we were in school—exclusively for boys? While girls weren’t allowed to sweat and thus played nothing but takyan or “Chinese garter” or their perennial favorite, jackstones?

Yes. But that was then. That was decades ago. That was old school. Today, just like my daughter, football is the most-played sport for all those who wear skirts.

Which brings me to ask: Since most girls in elementary and in high school play football and, since it’s a given that a vast majority of boys play the same sport, then isn’t this game popularized by the Beckhams and Zidanes and Kakas the most popular sport in Cebu today, among students?

It is. Is it, you ask, more popular than basketball? The sport that’s absorbed us for decades ever since the eras of Magic and MJ and now, LBJ and Kobe?

It is. Football is tops. Want proof?

This weekend, visit the Cebu City Sports Center. Starting tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. until 11:30 p.m. on Sunday—that’s three full nights and two full days this weekend—the entire Abellana complex will wallop, kick, jolt, buzz and chant one word: F! O! O! T! B! A! L! L!

It’s called the 5th Thirsty Football Festival and—I must admit being biased in writing this—it’s an event organized by my family’s company and by my younger brother Charlie.

“When we started in 1994,” Charlie related to me, “we held it at the Ayala Center golf driving range. It was a huge success…. we had 90 teams joining.”

This year, I asked, how many are playing?



“No, teams. Multiply that by an average of 10 players per team, that’s nearly 2,300 participants.”


“Outside Manila, this should be the country’s biggest football event. And the good news is, we have a lot of out-of-town teams. Close to 200 teams come from Cebu and about 30 groups come from Manila, Bacolod, Dumaguete, Cagayan de Oro, Davao.

“Last year, we only had 140 teams but this year, it’s ballooned to a huge, huge number.”

Categories? Age brackets? I asked.

“Our youngest participants are six years old and below,” said Charlie.

Imagine girls and boys as young as 4, 5 or 6, kicking, tackling, scoring, guarding and raising their frail, little arms at the end for the win?

“Our oldest is the 40 and above category.”

Imagine fathers—and yes, possibly, grandfathers!—kicking, tackling, scoring, guarding and shoving each other for the big V?

Thanks to my brother Charlie (who was a basketball, not football, standout in school), to Neil Montesclaros (our indefatigable Tournament Director who was a former varsity star in Don Bosco and is now a Cebu Football Association director), and their team which includes Chad Songalia and Alex Lim, the 5th Thirsty Football Festival is what it is today: a giant festival.

Charlie with you-know-who

This weekend, if you visit, what will you see?

You’ll see six pitches (courts) scattered inside the giant grass field. You’ll see boys, girls, Men and Ladies competing in 14 divisions. You’ll hear music booming from the giant speakers. You’ll see parents screaming, referees blowing whistles, goalies blocking shots, strikers driving rifle-kicks, coaches losing voices.

Football… what a kick!

Hong Kong is a metropolis with a kick

HONG KONG—Scanning the sports sections of the two leading English newspapers here, South China Morning Post and China Daily, as I did the past week, one will find that Hong Kong’s five most popular sports are: Number one, soccer. No. 2: the sport with 11 players per team on-field. Three, the game whose favorite Sun.Star columnists are Mike Limpag and Noel Villaflor. Four: it’s an activity played on a rectangular-shaped grass field with goalies on each wing. Fifth, it’s also called… surprise… football!

Yes. In this Chinese self-governing territory that is one of the richest locations on earth (HK’s GDP- per capita of $43,800 is the world’s 14th highest while our beloved country, at $3,300, languishes at No. 162), I ask: what is the one game that is followed the most—well, excluding the “gambling sport” of horse-racing? Kicking. Yup, the sport of the feet. Continue reading Hong Kong is a metropolis with a kick

Guinness World Records gives Barotac a kick


I was born in the land of La Paz batchoy and the Pancit Molo. A city where, before dining, residents utter the lines, “kaon ta-e!” “kaon ta bala” or “kaon ta anay!”

Iloilo City, it’s named, and, as a child, I have fond memories of lighting up fireworks on Dec. 31 or trekking on a bike during the month of April.

These recollections flashed before my mind when, while scanning through the online news yesterday, my eyes widened and my smile reached ear-to-ear when I read this The Philippine Star title: Ilonggos break soccer marathon record. Continue reading Guinness World Records gives Barotac a kick

Giant Upset!

(Eric Gay/AP)

You know why I love sports so much? Five words: YOU NEVER KNOW THE ENDING. You don’t. You never do. A $220 million blockbuster movie will telegraph it’s ending midway through the story while a New York Times bestselling novel will snake you through turns and twists and reveal, two-thirds through the 347-pager, that last-page twist.

But sports? Nah. YOU…. NEVER…. KNOW.

Take yesterday’s Super Bowl XLII. The New England Patriots owned the NFL. In fact, wasn’t the league supposed to be renamed the “N.E.L.,” as in the New England League? You see, the Pats are Tiger Woods-like; in the past six years, they’ve snatched three Super Bowls. They owned Randy Moss, the game’s best wide receiver who scored a season touchdown reception record (23) this ‘007. They called Bill Belichick as head coach. Continue reading Giant Upset!

Super Bowl XLII: It’s Going To Be Super!

Tom Brady. His other name is Matt Damon. They’re twins. They look alike. The only difference is, even if Matt Damon is well-built and can jump from 22-foot-tall buildings like what we saw in “The Bourne Ultimatum,” he’s unlike Tom Brady who towers at 6-foot-4, has graced the covers of GQ Magazine 235,280 times, has a child with actress Bridget Moynahan (from “I, Robot”) and whose current girlfriend is, according to the Guinness Records, the “world’s richest supermodel,” Gisele Bundchen.

And Matt, sorry—you’re not the most famous American in the world today. Tom Brady is! I’m serious. Tom is no Cruise or Hanks and he’s not on CNN running for President like Barack Obama, but later today—Sunday in the U.S.—all eyes will be transfixed on one man: Mr. Brady. Continue reading Super Bowl XLII: It’s Going To Be Super!