They can also inspire
Published by the Visayan Daily Star Publications, Inc.
|NINFA R. LEONARDIA|
Editor-in-Chief & President
NIDA A. BUENAFE
MAJA P. DELY
ANTONIO L. LEONARDIA|
The team fondly and aptly known the Philippine Azkals made history last Tuesday when they slipped into the semifinals of the AFC Challenge Cup for the first time in history, after defeating heavily favored Tajikistan 2-1 at the Halchowk Stadium in Kathmandu, Nepal. This is their biggest accomplishment since reaching the semifinals of the Suzuki Cup in Vietnam last December 2010.
Being the lowest ranked team in the so-called “Group of Death”, which included former champions India and North Korea, expectations were low, and the team was actually booked to fly back home by the end of the group stage, But now that their 2-0-1 win-draw-loss card was enough to put them in second place behind North Korea, and they have a chance to compete for the finals against Group A leader Turkmenistan tomorrow, they will have to deal with the minor inconvenience of resetting their return flight while the team ushers in a new era for Philippine football.
Their journey has not been without controversy, with accusations of sexual harassment being leveled against team members Lexton Moy and the eventual hero of the Tajikistan match, Angel Guirado, just before they left for Nepal to compete in this critical stage of the AFC Challenge Cup. Those serious accusations will have to be dealt with and appropriate measures taken to ensure that such issues, as well as others concerning team behavior are avoided in the future. This is especially important now that they are in the spotlight, and whether they like it or not, serve as role models for millions of Filipino youth.
Instead of giving us something to cheer about or inspiring our youth with feats of excellence, our dysfunctional national sports program has done nothing but make us feel like disadvantaged losers year after year. Love them or hate them, the Azkals have proven that Filipinos, given the right opportunities, can compete as equals and even shine in the world stage. This is the first time the Philippines has made it this far in an international tournament such as the AFC Challenge Cup and, if we continue to nurture Filipino football talents and provide them with the opportunities to grow, develop, and compete; this shouldn’t be the last. Given the multitude of Filipino talents out there, if those in charge of the other sports programs in this country can also make use of their available resources to turn their sport around the way the Azkals have transformed Philippine football, we should have plenty more reasons to cheer for.
But for now, let us support the Azkals whatever way we can, as they do their best to make us proud to be Filipino the best way they know how.*