I was literally right under the Philippine flag when the National Anthem started playing to signify the beginning of the second match between the Philippines and Sri Lanka for the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Everyone stood at attention, with some holding the flag up above their heads with their left arms, while their right hands were on their chests. It’s been a while since I last heard the National Anthem sung this loud and, this time, I knew that everyone sang it with pride.
Just as the game started, rain started to pour. What we at first thought would be a drizzle or a light shower quickly turned into an all-out downpour, and some of those who were out on the Kaholeros’ side of the stadium started jumping and dancing, welcoming the water and relishing in the drama of it all. The OC side of me wanted to take cover, but I let my inner child out and danced around in the rain as well, remembering the good ol’ days when it was safe to do that, and allowing myself to just live in the moment. The rain and the accompanying wind were refreshing—the perfect setup to what would be a remarkable afternoon.
Panning around the unfolding events in the Rizal Memorial Stadium, the scene looked straight out of a Hollywood movie. There was the audience enduring the rain for the sake of their beloved team, the drummers intensifying the beating of their drums, and the team swishing and sliding but still managing to maintain great footwork and control. If someone were to shoot a movie in one take, this would have been the perfect moment for it.
Early on in the game it was apparent that the Azkals were in fine form. The “lay” football fan in me noticed a lot of great footwork and passing among the team and a lot of goal attempts early on in the first half. According the football chronicler @roymondous’s blog entry, “The Perfect Moment in Football History”, we had 13 attempts in the first half, versus Sri Lanka’s two. The action was almost always on the Philippine goal side, while whatever attempts Sri Lanka had made to get control of the ball were easily squashed by great offensive playing as well. Chieffy Caligdong, who had given us the historic Mongolia goal, as well as the set-up for Nate Burkey’s goal in Sri Lanka, was a strong, consistent player. I also noticed that Ángel Guirado y Aldeguer, who until this game seemed to just have been waiting for his moment to shine, turned in a great performance, with a lot of goal attempts.
Further from Roy’s blog:
“The team really showed their class, putting together several smart passing moves throughout the game. Chieffy Caligdong set the team on their way after dribbling in the area past several defenders before firing into the bottom left corner on the 19th minute. Controlling much of the possession the team had several chances with James Younghusband forcing the Sri Lankan goalkeeper into a fine fingertip save. Despite the chances it seemed like the Philippines would take a slender lead into half-time until Phil Younghusband beat the Sri Lankan defence for strength and rounded the goalkeeper to score the Philippines’ second goal of the game on the 43rd minute.”
Out on the stands, in the heart of the booster squad called the Kaholeros, the energy was palpable. Football fans, musicians, footballers, and novices (like me) alike were all one in chanting, drumming (some with the “aquadrums”—five-gallon water bottles—that had been used particularly for this game, others with whatever they had on their hands), shouting, dancing, and simply having a good time. After the 40th minute in the first half, the crowd decided to make its first big wave, and just as the wave had passed our area—SWOOSH! In came the second, albeit controversial, goal from Phil Younghusband, as if right on cue! It was unbelievable! That made me think that there really might have been a Big Omnipresent Director out there this afternoon, adding the Hollywood effects to this beautiful game.
The second half proved to be just as exciting, with every member of the team showing full control and great teamwork. James Younghusband set up that wide open goal that allowed Ángel Guirado to score the Philippines’ third goal, and Neil Etheridge was in top form all throughout, crushing every attempt by Sri Lanka to score even just one goal. It was evident that Sri Lanka was panicking under the pressure to score, and a penalty kick awarded to Phil Younghusband allowed him to score his second goal and clinch our decisive victory.
We WON!!! The crowd was jubilant, and after the formalities were over, the Azkals paraded around the stadium, waving at their countrymen in pride, and dancing to the beat of the drums when they headed over to our side. At one point, Ángel Guirado, a Filipino Spanish born in Malaga, kissed the flag that he was holding, looking grateful for this country that embraced him and his playing.
And just as the day was ending, the sun came out to complement the lights in the stadium, casting a slight orange glow, as if crowning our country’s victory with some light from above. It was again another cinematic moment, but one that could no longer be captured by even the best cameras and best experienced live. This is how things should be here, I thought. From the beginning ‘till the end, we all showed up and participated with pride. We proudly held up our country’s colors, we sang the National Anthem, we helped to create an environment that was positive and festive—and we even made sure to avoid jeering when one of the opponent’s men went down. There was fair play, there was positive energy, there was hard work, there was cooperation, there was teamwork. It was a moment that truly showed the Philippines at its best, and if this could be the template for everything else that we would be doing henceforth, I don’t see why we can’t step out of the doldrums and capture the world’s attention—not just for playing great football (or boxing, or music)—but more importantly, for being the little country that truly could.