They caught our fancy and sparked a resurgence of football in the Philippines. In a country that reveres basketball, boxing, and billiards, the “beautiful game” suddenly appeared in the hearts and minds of Filipinos. How did the Azkals pull this off? Here are 6 reasons why Filipinos, if not football fans all over the world, love the Azkals.
1. They were a storybook Cinderella team.
Before their shocking victory over Vietnam, few people have even heard of the Azkals. We probably didn’t even know we had entered in the ASEAN Football Championship, let alone that we had fought three-time champion Singapore to a 1-1 draw courtesy of a last-minute goal by Chris Greatwich. And then suddenly, like the clueless Prince after glancing at the beautiful Cinderalla, we asked ourselves: Who are they and what haven’t we heard about them?
2. They had a distinctively Filipino name
They weren’t called “Eagles” or “Booters” or whatever other Western moniker. They had a name that was endearingly familiar to the true-blooded Filipino. My hats off to whoever coined the name “Azkals”. I understand that the original team name was supposed to be Calle Azul (or Blue Street), which then evolved to Azul Calle and then Az Cal. Someone then suggested to refer it as Azkal as in “asong kalye” or street dog. The asong kalye is neglected, ignored, and left to fend for itself, yet it is a tough, resilient, ferocious survivor. “Azkal” was a name that aptly captured the state of the Philippines football team.
3. They had a villain
Every hero needs a villain. They say that a villain defines the hero. The more hateful the villain the better. And, ironically, this villain was not an opposing team but our very own Philippine Football Federation president Jose Mari Martinez, removed from office on accusations of “falsification of public documents, the unauthorized disbursement of funds, and the failure to return the missing funds before a set deadline.” Nothing probably caused so much ire and hatred than when Martinez readily surrendered the home-field advantage without even a plea. Why he even disregarded a neutral playing ground is beyond me. Whenever I think of Mari Martinez I have the image of a conniving Dick Dastardly character, twirling his mustache, and conjuring up schemes to derail the progress of the Philippine football team. If ever there is a fitting postscript to this drama, it would be a thorough government investigation of Mari Martinez.
4. They were the underdogs.
So here were the Azkals, lacking in support, their home-field advantage squandered, entering a stadium filled with 80,000 football-rabid Indonesians, facing a team that had scored 13 goals in the group elimination stage. Deep in our hearts we knew that it would be a tough battle with the odds against us, but, as always, everybody loves the underdog.
5. They showed heart and soul.
And they never gave up. They gave the Indonesians a run for their money. I’m not sure if I read the body-language correctly, but the coach for the Indonesian team looked worried and tense. And the Azkals could have pulled it off. They fought tooth and nail. . But they had chances to score. The Indonesians never took them for granted. The Azkals were elbowed and jostled and pushed to the ground. The Indonesians didn’t play restrained kid-gloved football—they came bearing their teeth. And the Azkals showed their fangs as well.
6. They looked good.
The Azkals, despite their names, did not look like ragged street urchins. A number of them had movie star, Bench-model looks. And swarms of giggly, screeching fans scampered to have their pictures taken with them, even the Indonesian football fans who, just a few days ago, where screaming obscenities at them.
(Source: Solo's Log)