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Azkals Continue to Rise: Another Reason To Take Pinoy Pride to the Pitch



Six years ago, the Philippines national football team was stuck in the cellar of ASEAN football. Only few people knew that there was a national team in football and not even many thought the team is capable of winning. The Azkals missed out on qualifying for the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup and the same year’s AFF Championship due to inferior goal difference. How heartbreaking was that?

Now we go to 2014. November 25 to be precise. By beating Indonesia four goals to nothing, the Philippines secured a spot in the semifinals of the 2014 ASEAN Football Federation Championship (more famously known as the Suzuki Cup) for the third time on the trot. Another glorious chapter has been inscribed in Philippine football history books, which was previously filled by a plethora of melancholic events. The result ensured the Azkals will at least repeat the achievements of the two previous batches of players who valiantly escaped the group stage into the final four. Of course, what may set them apart from their predecessors is the chance to win it all.

As last week’s enormous win against a team that used to beat thrash us mercilessly in the past, I was overwhelmingly proud of how the national team has improved since I first saw them in action a dozen years ago. Growing up, I became a fan not just of the teams I like but of the sport as well. Everyone usually starts on that route. Restricting myself from getting carried away as I did not want to taint my work with partiality, I calmly uttered the words “yes” and “wow” in reacting to each goal while thinking about the construction of my article. The lopsided victory presented me more time to narrate the events from Hanoi’s My Dinh Stadium as articulate as possible.

After fulfilling my duties, I took time to reminisce every event I can recall since I began following the Philippine football team from afar. I say afar because I only watched most games on TV since 2002. (My first live game was the 1-1 draw against Malaysia back in 2012.) I realized that all three teams in our group have dealt me, the former players, and the supporters who have been following the team back when most Filipinos don’t even know we had a national team some counts of misery.

Laos, before this year, never lost to the Philippines in international football. Add to that the fact that they almost always had our number in the qualifying round of the AFF Championship. It took a James Younghusband’s last minute equalizer to make the Hanoi-induced football fever possible. Had the Philippines lost, they may have not qualified for Vietnam four years before and recorded remarkable results that led to a massive following amongst Filipinos. The 4-1 win proved to many that the Azkals are clearly beyond their Lao counterparts.

Indonesia has been a monster in ASEAN Football and has always been a football country (much like the Philippines is a basketball country) filled with talented players and passionate supporters. The biggest scar they placed in the memory of long time Azkals fans was the 13-1 win they picked up against us in 2002 (yes, that year again.) In addition, they did more damage in 2010 by eliminating us in the semis and some Indonesian fans allegedly hurling abuse to the team. Fast forward to four years when the Azkals return the favor to the gallant yet deteriorating Indonesian squad.

Vietnam, although losing the 2010 and 2012 battles against the Azkals, used to have it easy against us. They did not worry about beating the Filipinos, what concerned them was the number of times they would score versus the Philippines. It looked the opposite in the 3-1 loss against Vietnam with the home team respecting the abilities of the Filipinos in the pitch. They played arguably their best football to steal top seed from us. In barging through the semis for three consecutive occasions, the Azkals just did not file their intentions of taking home the Suzuki Cup for they have completely wiped out the minnows label that has long kept the Azkals leashed.

What makes this year different than 2010 and/or 2012? Obviously, a lot but nothing bigger than the affirmation of the Philippines’ status as legitimate title contenders.

In 2010, people were awed by how the Azkals made noise by pulling a string of successful results in the group stage (a win and two draws for the perceived underdogs is considered successful against difficult opposition.) People wondered how far they’d go and bowing to Indonesia in the semifinals is not the most surprising outcome at all.

Two years ago and the Filipinos were still not regarded as serious title contenders in the region. The majority was curious whether they could prove that the 2010 charge was no fluke. The Azkals did just that by making it to the semifinals again, only to lose narrowly to eventual champions Singapore. It was a valiant attempt to take Philippine football to the next level.

This year, the Azkals went to the tournament as contenders having been the best team in Southeast Asia as long as only FIFA rankings are concerned. The Philippines worked their way up by stacking up wins against (by their standards) weaker teams. The 2014 edition of the Suzuki Cup provided the Philippines an opportunity to become more than the best among the rest and go for regional football domination. The days of moral victories are all in the past now.

Gone are the moments when the Philippines lose by wide margins year after year. We have moved on from an era when the Azkals look listless from time to time, when keeping clean sheets feels like winning championships, and when people shun the Philippines’ football team both here and abroad. No more tears of hopelessness from fans like me who were told not to “waste time” in supporting a “lost cause” known then as Philippine football. What people tell me now are questions about the Azkals’ chances of becoming champions in every tournament they join.

Now that the Azkals seem to gradually climb up and eventually may find their way in winning more silverware in the future, some have begun to manifest support for the team. An underwhelming few find it annoying that bandwagoners and fair weather fans have been increasing the number of supporters in recent years. For me, however, that is more than welcome. The sad truth in Philippine sports (or maybe in general but intensely apparent in the country) is that people would, more likely than not, never bother supporting a team in their tough times.

Sports has been arguably the most powerful tool of patriotism in the post-World War II era. It reinforces positively the idea of nationalism and collective identity in which we all have a share on and can instantly relate ourselves to. Football is definitely a prime example to restore our confidence in what we can do together while operating around a framework governed by accorded standards–quite similar to nation-building. Bottom line is one does not need to know sports from the start. One can begin with the burning desire of supporting the country and go on to admire the sport. Just like how millions of self-proclaimed casual boxing aficionados started liking boxing as many Filipinos have already made their marks in the discipline. I do not see a reason for us to keep football from receiving the same love the very passionate Filipino people can give.

As I say all these, I look forward to Saturday night as an opportunity to write another recap article for work see a huge flock of Filipinos supporting the Azkals not just for Philippine football but the country’s sports sector as well. It is always sad to hear about people complaining about tickets selling out, but that’s actually positive for it demands more.

If you haven’t hopped onto the bandwagon, you shouldn’t think it’s too late, because any time is the right time to unfurl the banners and belt out the cheers for our national team. Go Azkals Go!



Composed Ceres-Negros expels Shan United in shootout victory



Photo from

2017 AFC ASEAN Zone Champions Ceres-Negros banked on their poise and composure from the spot as they knocked out Myanmar’s Shan United via a 4-3 penalty shootout (1-1 after extra time) triumph, Tuesday evening at the Thuwunna Stadium in Yangon, Myanmar.

The Negrenses punched their ticket to Brisbane, Australia after emerging the better spotkick takers. Four Busmen were on target, while two of their Shan Warriors counterparts fluffed their lines.

The two domestic champions were inseparable after 120 minutes, with the hosts holding their own against the Philippine champions. Ceres-Negros looked the more dominant of the two teams. However, they couldn’t make the advantage count where it mattered, as they failed to breach the sturdy Shan United defense inside the first two regulation halves.

The visitors were visibly more comfortable in the first half, but with the scores staying level at the break, the less-fancied Myanmar champions eventually found their footing in the encounter. While there were several half-chances from either side to open the scoring, both defenses remained defiant en route to unwanted extra time.

“It was a tough game. We weren’t ready to play 120 minutes because we only had four training sessions before the game but everytime we wear this jersey, we represent Ceres, we represent Bacolod, we represent the Philippines, so we have to give our best,” Ceres’ defender Carli de Murga elaborated to the Inquirer after the match. The Asian Football season has yet to start, and with both teams not too busy with pre-season preparations, rust and fatigue in a demanding affair were evident.

Come extra time, Ceres-Negros took the initiative when Stephan Schröck’s deflected effort went past the helpless Thiha Si Thu just three minutes into the first half.

Nonetheless, the hosts refused to go down without a fight, and their resilience was rewarded later in the opening half. Substitute Patrick Asare found the back of the net to restore parity in Yangon.

Another 15 minutes of goalless action took place in the second half as both teams looked more cautious, perhaps with the collective aim of avoiding a costly error or two. Among all the chances, Schröck’s in the 114th minute may have proved to be the closest to changing the scores, as his attempt shaved the post.

Shan United took to the spot first, where Asare made his penalty attempt count. Nay Lin Tun also made his, but not before teammate Chizoba smashed his attempt over Toni Doblas’ goal.

While the hosts squandered a shot, the visitors remained calm in front of a hostile Myanmar crowd. De Murga, Schröck and Mike Ott nailed their turns, with Marañon also not missing a vital kick from 12 yards.

It set up William Biassi Nyakwe, the man credited with the own goal when he deflected Schröck’s opener, with the chance to prolong his team’s campaign in the AFC Champions League. Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t atone for his earlier mistake, as his attempt soared high and wide — much to the delight of the visiting team from Bacolod, the Philippines.

The reward for Ceres-Negros is a trip to Queensland, Australia, where they will seek to do one better than compatriots Global-Cebu. The 2016 Philippine champions also played against the Brisbane Roar, who dealt them a staggering 6-0 hammering this time last year. The match will be held at the Suncorp Stadium on January 23.

As for Shan United, a spot in the AFC Cup Group Stage awaits them and they may not have seen the last of Ceres-Negros just yet. If the Negrenses lose to either Brisbane Roar or Tianjin Quanjian, they will be reacquainted with the Burmese champions in Group F.

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Abu Tratter plans to work his way to 2023 by continuing to do ‘the dirty work’



Abu Tratter may have missed the jersey-giving ceremony that the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas held for the 23 for 2023 cadets last Monday but he made sure to help out when the current batch needed him the most.

After helping the Marinerong Pilipino Skippers win the Sinulog Cup in Cebu a week ago, the 6-foot-7 Filipino-American did not hesitate to heed Gilas’ call, as they were undermanned for their second session in preparation for the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.

“I think it’s just an honor to put on this jersey, to be able to represent our country, to possibly represent our country in the future. It’s an honor,” shared the Laguna-native.

The 25-year old, who just celebrated his birthday last January 9, admitted that he was in awe of the talent inside the Meralco Gym. Like a fan, he wanted to take a few photo ops with the senior team’s Gabe Norwood and June Mar Fajardo.

“Actually, at first I was just shocked to see June Mar and Gabe, just to be able to be in the midst of them,” gushed the former DLSU Green Archer, who will suit-up for Marinerong Pilipino in the D-League. “I even asked them for a picture, and hopefully they’ll still give me one.

“It’s just humbling, definitely.”

However, the work has only began for Tratter. With five years to go until the 2023 FIBA World Cup, the two-time UAAP champion plans to continue to do what he does best — be the same scrapper that he is and hopefully catch the eye of Gilas’ brass.

“I think just doing the dirty work, of course. Giving whatever the team needs, rebound or any steals, any thing a dirty player would need to pick up on,” he said.

“That’s how it is, garbage into gold. Get anything, sweep up anything and try to put it back.”

Moreover, he will continue answering the call when Gilas needs him, as he himself is learning a lot from being surrounded by the country’s topflight cagers.

“Whenever I can. I want to be able to absorb all the information coming from here and hopefully apply it in the D-League and hopefully apply it on future practices, future games.”

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2018 FIBA 3X3 World Cup

Terrence Romeo invited to join Pilipinas 3×3 for World Cup



Stronger than ever

Scoring sensation Terrence Romeo has been invited by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas to join the Philippine team in the upcoming FIBA 3X3 World Cup, according to Philippine Star columnist Quinito Henson.

Romeo, who is currently out due to a right knee injury, has been in rehabilitation and is expected to miss the entire Philippine Cup campaign of the Globalport Batang Pier and the second window of the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.

“Baka sa second conference na ko makabalik kasi talagang gusto ko malakas ako pagbalik ko,” the 25-year-old shared during Chooks-to-Go Live last January 2.

SBP Executive Director Sonny Barrios personally met with the 6-foot guard, inviting him to be part of the Philippine team.

Romeo has plenty of 3×3 basketball experience under his belt.

Back in 2014, Romeo was part of the Manila West 3×3 team during the Manila Masters. He was adjudged as the tournament Most Valuable Player.

The 2018 3X3 World Cup will take place from June 8-12 at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.

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Red Spikers extinguish Blazers for second win



Shaking off a forgettable outing against the Perpetual Help Altas last January 11, the San Beda College Red Spikers vented their ire on defending champions College of Saint Benilde Blazers in four sets, 25-15, 25-16, 23-25, 26-24, and claimed their second win of the season, Friday afternoon at the FilOil Flying V Centre.

“Sabi ng coaches kalimutan na yung talo,” shared captain Lorenze Santos of what transpired after that match.

So, in this game, the San Beda team poured on what they worked hard for to regain momentum. “Binuhos po namin lahat ng ginawa namin sa training [ngayon].”

After tight starts in all the first two sets, the Mendiola-based side pulled away to register the seemingly insurmountable 2-0 lead.

Nonetheless, summoning the heart of a champion and led by seniors Isaah Arda and Jethro Orian, the reigning champions pulled off gritty runs to snag the third set and making a tussle of the fourth.

Ultimately, Adrian Viray virtually ended the match with a vicious serve, which the Blazers failed to convert.

The prolific outside hitter finished with 17 points, 11 coming from attacks and five off blocks. Former skipper Mark Encino also registered 17 markers.

The Red Spikers (2-1) will face the Mapua University, also at 2-1, on Friday, January 19.

Orian was such a presence at the net, ending up with 20 points for the Taft-based squad.

The defending champions Blazers (2-1) will try to bounce back later that day against San Sebastian College (0-3).

The Scores:

SBC 3 – Viray 17, Enciso 17, Santos 11, Patenio 7, Amagan 7, Desuyo 3, Zabala 0, Genobaten 0, Manliclic 0, Casin L.

CSB 1 – Orian 20, Arda 18, Bacani 6, Basilan 4, Bautista 4, Magsino 2, Martinez 0, Garcia 0, San Miguel 0, Saldavia 0, Dy L.

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