The Philippine Men’s National Football team, or the Azkals as they are popularly known, just concluded their training camp in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where they played against some tough and skilled opposition in three practice matches: the Uzbek U23 team; Qatari 1st division club Al-Ahli; and the Australian U23.
I felt the Azkals played fairly well with the exception of the match against the young Uzbek team. The defense was pretty porous and they were trying to match the frenetic pace the Uzbeks were playing, though to be objective, the Uzbeks were a very good and highly skilled team with very fluid movement and good chemistry. This was the first match where the Azkals lost 3-0, but the succeeding matches (3-1 win against Al-Ahli and a 1-0 loss to the Aussies) showed they’ve addressed a number of problem areas and there was marked improvement in their performance.
Anyway, I am sure there are lots of stuff written out there about the matches; how the players performed, how the coach fared, the technical matters and stuff, etc. So I’m not going to delve into that, but rather focus on a feature of any Azkals away match: Filipino fans and supporters.
As I watched on TV the Azkals’ matches during their UAE tour, one thing I noticed about the TV coverage of the matches is that the director did a lot of shots and close-ups of the crowd, almost all of them Filipinos. Well, crowd shots and close-ups are a regular staple of TV coverage of football matches. Heck, whenever Brazil is playing you can safely bet your house that the director is going to put in a shot of female Brazilian fans, a number of whom would be in bikini tops. However, this particular director somehow enjoyed featuring the colorful and animated reactions of the crowd. I had a good feeling these crowd shots were a bit more than the usual based on the griping I would hear beside me on the couch to get the cameras back on the action happening on the pitch.
Personally though, I enjoyed watching our kababayans on TV having a grand time at the matches. It vividly brought back memories and the feelings we experienced when watching the Azkals in their various home matches at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum’s football field. It was those scenes of excitement, passion and enjoyment so evident on our fellow Filipinos faces and actuations as they cheered the Azkals that inspired me to write this piece and share some of my thoughts about football and Filipinos overseas.
Whether in the thousands or just a handful, the Azkals appear to be assured of having support in the stands whenever they play away from home. Vietnam, Indonesia, Mongolia, Germany, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bahrain, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Taiwan, Singapore or Qatar, there have been Filipinos in the stands cheering on the Azkals. Considering the number of Filipinos scattered around the globe, this is not surprising. With around a tenth of our population overseas, it is always likely that fellow Filipinos will be present to support them whenever they play in a major city.
We all know of course the value of having crowd support in the stadium. It motivates the players and gives them an extra boost to go all-out and try to win the match and not let the fans and supporters down. In return, the team and the players provide the fans and supporters not only excitement, passion and even fun, but a sense of pride as well. Those of us who have been in the stands watching our teams play and cheering them on knows these feelings all too well.
However, as I look at our kababayans in Dubai and Doha being featured on TV as they watched the Azkals’ matches, I can’t help but think how much more pronounced and significant the occasion is for them. It’s quite an experience already to be absorbed in the energy, passion and vibes of a match in Rizal, along with thousands of other Filipinos. I’d say that feeling and experience would be much more intense when in a foreign country, especially if you’ve been in that country for some time now, away from family and friends back home in the Philippines.
In my work I’ve had the opportunity to travel all over the world. One thing my colleagues and I notice is how quickly Filipinos connect whenever they run into each other overseas, particularly those who have been away from home for so long. These even include those who have migrated and settled in their adopted country and raised families there. The connection to the homeland and things Filipino remain very strong with Filipinos overseas. You could see their joy in meeting a kababayan, their craving for news and stuff from the Motherland.
So can you just imagine how they would be feeling to have their national team represent them and play for them? The images on TV revealed quite a lot about their experience, and that is why I enjoyed every moment those scenes would be flashed on the screen.
You see, this isn’t just about showing support for Philippine football and the country. It is just as much about making an effort to give Filipinos overseas an opportunity to enjoy, feel proud about themselves and of being a Filipino. Every time an Azkal fights for the ball, takes a shot at goal, throws his body to block a shot, etc. that player isn’t just doing that for the team and the country, he’s also doing that for every individual in the stands cheering him on. Considering that a good number of those individuals have been there for some time, in a foreign land, different culture, badly missing loved ones, friends and home, having an opportunity to relish and revel in the communal experience and passion of a live football match would definitely be an occasion to remember and cherish.
As can be seen from experience, there is everything to gain from overseas activities such as this training camp and/or away matches. Football and Filipinos overseas make a good argument for continuing these types of activities. As the Azkals gain much needed match experience and enhance their ability as a team, Filipinos overseas get an opportunity to enjoy themselves and to feel proud.
As I recall those scenes and images on TV of our kababayans out there having the time of their lives watching our Azkals play and making us proud, I can’t help but feel happy for them for having had that wonderful opportunity. I’m sure the PFF and the management of the Azkals will make sure that those very same opportunities will be made available to other Filipinos overseas in the future.
In the meantime, it’s our turn here back at home come February 29. Go Azkals! WE BELIEVE!!!