What. A. Match.

Liverpool surely don’t do it easy or straightforward. They had to have us going from one emotion to the extreme opposite end. Last night’s match vs Norwich is one for the books. What a rollercoaster ride. Adam Lallana, you are my hero.

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About Last Sunday…

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Fernando Torres captioned this photo as “Liverpool family”. I can’t even muster any eloquence to describe what the All-Star Charity Match (a.k.a. everyone’s chance to say goodbye) means to the fans. This club is making me weepy again (apart from the huge blows against Arsenal and that club made of manure).

Lady Luck and La Vecchia Signora in Singapore

The thing with fangirling is that it comes with a lot of luck.

I am now able to articulate this after a whirlwind weekend in Singapore that started out with a simple musing: Following the 2014 World Cup, I may never see Gigi Buffon or Andrea Pirlo at the top level soon.

Which was followed by: It would also be nice to see Claudio Marchisio in person too. Not just in those timeless Dolce & Gabbana ads (and by timeless, I mean in skivvies).

So began the formulation of the best laid plans that eventually were replaced by even better unplanned moments. All because of luck.

Now I learned about luck a decade or so ago—and how it plays a huge part in getting you that temporary high (or lingering, as the case may be). You can wait in line at the hotel lobby for hours or drive yourself to madness over the thought of jumping in the hotel fountain if it means escaping from the clutches of the security cordon. And that one fleeting glimpse of that celebrity you’ve been waiting for? Enough to last your happy bubble for weeks.

As for us, we started riding our luck by winning passes to Juventus’ training session—which led to a mad scramble to rebook flights and to find a place to stay for a night in Singapore earlier than planned—never mind if there was not enough passes.

Luck, sometimes, treats you too well, when it just pays to know the people who can help sort out the situation (thank you, thank you, thank you to you—you know who you are).

Cue to Friday, August 15, at 5 p.m., we took our places in a relatively short line at Gate 3 of Singapore’s National Stadium, and 30 minutes later, we subtly dashed to the front row of seats for training.

Now who would have thought training could be so… glorious? Perhaps that is the case for fans in Asia, where tours to this part of the world come once or twice in a lifetime.

The guys went through a series of passing and shooting drills. When Andrea Pirlo stepped onto the pitch, it was as if the clouds parted, and a light from the heavens shone onto Jesus in the midfield. And boy, oh boy, what a treat it was to see him in action, with every pass made with stunning precision and accuracy.

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Gigi Buffon regaled the crowd by squatting to the beat of chants to his name. Behind us, a guy kept screaming, “Patrick!” to Patrice Evra, which made us snicker. Sebastian Giovinco was quite a firecracker—as if the little guy had more than everybody else’s energy packed in his two little legs.

And of course, there’s Claudio Marchisio.

There’s something incredibly surreal about seeing your football crushes in person. It’s as if you are in a strange out-of-body experience thinking, “I just see this man on television and my laptop screen, on livestreaming and on Tumblr and Instagram, and now, he’s just several meters in front of me!”

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He will never have the most refined of movements, but really, what a beautiful man. Claudio wasn’t too shabby as well, banging in a couple of goals in front of us during the drills.

When the guys finished their drills and took a quick water break, they started walking to where the fans were, and even if you tried acting normal, composure was thrown out of the window. After all, it seemed like a hundred guys behind us were squishing us against the barriers, also wanting to get their shirts signed.

On our area, Carlos Teves (haha), Marco Motta, (what a beard) Emil Audero (so cute), and El Rey Leon himself Fernando Llorente signed shirts and posed for a few photos. Fernando was visibly tired and seemingly annoyed, but to his credit, he finished the entire line of fans on our side.

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Day 1 was really a day of luck, and I didn’t believe it could get any better with Day 2.

The following morning, after a hearty lunch at Nando’s, we headed to the Fullerton Hotel where there was a small group of fans waiting at the basement lobby. We managed to see some of the guys as they went to what we thought was a press conference (Why do I never think of asking for a media pass? Why?).

A kid screamed, “I LOVE YOU JESUS!” when Pirlo walked by. That got us all cracking up.

An hour before the gates at the National Stadium were about to open, the guys came down once again for what we thought was a short team meeting, before heading back up to their rooms. Evra was kind enough to tell the fans, “We’ll be back.” By then, I thought they were just going to get their stuff then head down to the bus and go to the stadium.

True enough, that’s what happened about 10 minutes later when the guys started filing out (Marco Storari always came out first).

I think my brain just shut when Claudio emerged from the elevator. We were trying to give him his gift (“Claudio! Gift for you! For you!” because he almost signed it, to which he replied, “For me? Thank you!”) and got some selfies—and for those who were wondering, no, he didn’t smell of anything.

We ran back up to where the bus was parked and tried to look for where Claudio was sitting on the bus. He was on the side farther from where the fans stood and was sitting on his seat with a far away look, when I decided to wave at him like an idiot. He waved back.

Claudio Marchisio. Waving back. At me. Stop the presses. This is not real life.

I tried to mime to him that the gift he got was from us, and he kept making a forward circular motion with his hand and pointed index finger—which could mean any one of these three things: 1) We are about to leave; 2) The wheels on the bus go round and round; or 3) Carry on, you are amusing me.

Claudio Marchisio and I were communicating. Never mind if we couldn’t understand each other. We were com-mu-ni-ca-ting.

We went back to where the other players were emerging, and when Llorente came up, we were the only ones screaming in Spanish, “Fernando, te quiero mucho! El Rey Leon!” He winked and grinned broadly.

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Someone pinch me. This is all happening.

We went back to where Claudio was seated and held up a sign that said, “Claudio, Manila gift from us!” Claudio he responded by holding it up and flashing a thumbs-up sign. Then Llorente sat next to him and waved back at us.

If I could frame this moment and put it up on the wall, I would.

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By then, the match between Juventus and Singapore would be icing on the cake. Juventus led 2-0 at the half, thanks to a free kick and a penalty kick from Pirlo. What a magician.

I thought Singapore managed to hold on quite well in the first half, but the Italian champions just dismantled them in the second half, with goals from Paul Pogba, Sebastian Giovinco (who was intently picking his nose while aboard the team bus—cheers to Booger Power then), and Kwadwo Asamoah.

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The spanking new National Stadium did not disappoint. Even when the crowd was just at half-capacity, the support for both Juventus and the Singapore squad was unwavering. Oh, and Pirlo was named Man of the Match.

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I write this nearly a week after everything that was. My Claudio Marchisio jersey remains unwashed and hanging at the edge of my bed. I’ll get around to washing it this weekend. For now, it’s just there to remind me of what an awesome time we had in Singapore—all because of Juventus and a whole lot of good luck.

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Swan Song.

How do you end a disastrous World Cup campaign?

When you still are the reigning champions (until such time a new champion is named by July 13), you go out in style. And in style they did, scoring three goals against Australia to salvage pride, and the belief that the champions can bounce back and return.

David Villa scored from a cheeky backheel in open play right before halftime. It was classic Villa—shifty, crafty, and somewhat unorthodox. It was a reminder of how Spain played in (and won) the World Cup four years ago.

It was the fitting swan song for the man who has cemented himself as Spain’s all-time highest goalscorer in international competitions, and when he was subbed out in the 56th minute, the tears just flowed. It is all too much to take in that we will never see David Villa at this level ever again.

One of two other men who scored Spain’s goals was the much-maligned Fernando Torres, who never really found his form four years on. Ah, but El Niño will always be the Great Hope of Spanish Football, eventually finding the back of the net in the 69th minute.

Juan Mata hit the nail in the coffin with a nutmeg on Australia’s goalkeeper in the 82nd minute.

Andres Iniesta played a brilliant game on his 100th cap for Spain. As for the youngsters, apart from Mata, Koke was fearless in taking his shots—a portend of the good things to come.

Surely, it was not the kind of run that we all expected, but we are consoled by the fact that the Spain of the old was still present. It may just need new blood, fresh legs, and an evolution in style, but if anything, this rather emotional non-bearing game made us see that the heart of a champion is still there.

Onto Euro 2016, and a much-deserved rest for the players. ¡Gracias campeones!

Brazil Soccer WCup Australia Spain Spain's Fernando Torres celebrates after scoring a goal during the 2014 World Cup Group B soccer match between Australia and Spain at the Baixada arena

 

This is Manila.

(Apologies are in order for the delay of this post.)

As a Filipino Liverpool fan, it is quite hard to get a fix of your favorite football team in the country. Merchandise is limited; there are hardly any marketing efforts, and people in the country probably associate Liverpool with only the Beatles at best. Perhaps it didn’t help that when football had a resurgence in the Philippines, Liverpool was languishing at the middle of the table, prone to have uninspiring games and second half meltdowns.

Maybe it also helped that because we were so few, we bonded over a shared love for a club that stood for something ultimately bigger than the wins (but still finding time to remind everyone else that we have the most number of European championships among English club), a group of people who experienced the same highs and lows, and yes, even the unlucky slip.

We sought for our Liverpool fixes in dimly lit bars, perhaps surprising a couple of expats that, hey, there are Filipino Liverpool fans. Anything more than the televised game was sought for in other countries—there are those who meticulously plan visits to Anfield and pray to win the ticket lottery, and there are those who brave the thousands-strong crowds in any other Southeast Asian country to see the Red Men on their Asian tours.

Forgive us when we got too giddy over an invitation from the British Embassy for cocktails in honor of Liverpool coaches Phil Oliver and Colin Wilson, who were recently in the Philippines for a series of football clinics through the efforts of folks from Standard Chartered.

Speaking before a small group of Embassy staff, media, and Liverpool fans, coach Phil Oliver, in that distinct Scouse accent, remarked, “It’s been a fantastic experience. Liverpool value their partnership with Standard Chartered thanks to events like these. We hope that the children we taught would have the ambition to grow (as footballers). As long as the children have that ambition and passion to grow, football is obviously going to grow in the Philippines.”

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“It’s also fantastic to see so many Liverpool fans with the red shirts,” he continued. “There’s a lot of ambition and passion for Liverpool, and that’s something that we’ll go back with and tell the Academy.”

Meanwhile, Nimmi Kamal, Head of Corporate Affairs of Standard Chartered in the Philippines, shared that they have received “amazing feedback” from the boys that were trained by the Liverpool coaches, noting the unwavering passion of the students and their parents—despite the heat. “It’s been a good start, I would say. The objective is to grow the passion for football and for Liverpool,” she stated.

Consider this baby steps to Liverpool’s foray into the Philippines—and for a small initiative, it was received quite well.

For us fans, the evening reception was quite a treat, with Liverpool pins and cake pops as giveaways, coupled with tasty pub grub and maple bacon ice cream.

While the hope to get the first team to fly out to Manila remains quite distant, having the Liverpool Academy coaches was already a big deal. “This is the closest I’ll get to Steven Gerrard!” remarked a certain writer.

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How important was this for us? We had “This is Manila” shirts made for the Liverpool coaches, and coach Phil was kind enough to share a photo of the shirt finding its way to Anfield.

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Sure, these are baby steps for Liverpool in the Philippines, but these are equally baby steps for the Philippines to be put on Liverpool’s radar.

Bonus: Some items up for grabs in a silent auction—a shirt signed by the entire first team and a ball signed by Jordan Henderson!

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¡Reyes de Europa!

If there’s any word to describe the UEFA Champions League Final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, it would be: INTENSE. It wasn’t the most beautiful of games, but it had that mounting tension that every final should have from the moment the first whistle blew.

An error from Iker Casillas allowed Godin to score in the 36th minute, and in the dying minutes of regulation time, that’s when you start to think, “Surely, we did not build up for La Decima with just this?” Atleti were too good in closing down spaces, with the midfield unable to supply the balls, and BBC largely shut down.

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But faith will bring us La Decima. In the form of a Sergio Ramos header in the 93rd minute.

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What a season it has been for Sergio Ramos. Undoubtedly his best yet. Undoubtedly his most important header.

Mucho animo, as they would say. It was as if he pumped life back into this Real Madrid team, who knew momentum swung their way in extra time.

Then the goals came. From Bale, from Marcelo, and icing on top of the cake, a cleanly scored penalty by Cristiano Ronaldo.

At last, La Decima is ours. What an incredible feeling. I’ll be telling my grandkids one day that I was able to witness for myself a portion of Real Madrid’s journey to their 10th European Cup.

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