Wet, Wild, and Everything in Between

Originally posted in Pinoyfootball.

“I didn’t know this game was on my bucket list until it happened,” my friend Ron enthuses, as we were cheering on a group of ball boys and girls scooping excess water from the sides of the pitch at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

Indeed, who would have thought that the Philippines-Cambodia match was one for the books? Hubris aside, an easy victory was expected, but the style and manner by which the Azkals had won the match was certainly beyond expectations.

When Turkmenistan routed Cambodia last Friday, the 7-0 scoreline seemed to be a tall order for the Philippines to overcome, as we start our bid to top Group E in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers.

The first twenty or so minutes of the match revealed a seeming lack of cohesion among our boys. However, when Phil Younghusband began the scoring festivities with a scrappy goal at the 25th minute, the proverbial floodgates opened up for the Azkals. Younghusband would score three more goals in the match, including one from a curling shot in the 30th minute of the match.

Javier Patiño, in his debut for the Philippine national team, netted a brace, scoring in the 45th and 57th minutes. The Filipino-Spaniard proved to be an effective attacking option behind Younghusband, showing he could take matters into his own feet (pun intended) in front of the goal.

Stephan Schröck, who was tearing up the left flank all game long, was an absolute delight to watch, especially as he made mincemeat out of the Cambodian defense. Schröck himself would score a goal at the start of the second half, taking the Cambodians by surprise and reducing goalkeeper Samreth Seiha to pounding the ground out of frustration. (Schröck was my man of the match—the man was also creating opportunities for his teammates all day long, to top it all off.)

Carli de Murga secured the Philippines’ current place on top of the Group E standings with a goal in the 88th minute, and in ninja-esque style.

In the post-match press conference, Stephan Schröck stated, “Everybody was happy. Coach gave us the right words.” Coach Hans Michael Weiss also congratulated the team for their achievement, pointing out the value that quality players bring with their individual skills.

Then there were the surprises apart from the goals.

A power outage occurred as the first half was about to end, leaving only a couple of floodlights to illuminate the pitch.

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Earth Hour at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, anyone?

Even topping that was the temporary suspension of the match at the 65th minute, with the crowd waiting it out for an hour before the play could resume. The credit goes to the rag-tag team of boys and girls that had to manually scoop out the water puddles on the sides and at certain portions of the pitch, armed with nothing but brooms, pails, and empty trash bins.

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I really hope these guys were paid a bit more for all the effort they put into “unclogging” the pitch.

Sometimes, the label of “emerging football nation” doesn’t get any more blatant with this kind of pitch. Coach Weiss lamented it “an absolute embarrassment to play in these conditions”. Schröck added that the pitch was not as good as he had expected.

In any case, Sunday night proved to have been the stuff of lopsided matches, puddle-riddled pitches, and highly uncertain weather. The only thing that is certain is that there is so much to look forward to on Tuesday evening, as the Philippines and Turkmenistan battle it out for the top spot of Group E of the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers.

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Easily my MOTM. Schröcky is (and continues to be) a beast.

The Surprise that is Siem Reap

One hour in Siem Reap, and I’m already smitten. Perhaps it’s the small-town, laid-back vibe that presented a welcome respite for the weary urban jungle trekker. Perhaps it’s the quaint charm of the Angkor Home Hotel, complete with the jasmine-scented pools and lounges in the lobby. Perhaps it’s the calmness of corner cafés and Blue Pumpkin’s white lounge.

Weaving through the alleys of the night markets and along Pub Street has become routine in a short span of time—after all, what is a trip without getting into the local shopping culture, the local eating culture, and the local drinking culture? Of course, part of the local culture is having to bear with persistent vendors and even more persistent tuk-tuk drivers.

And then there’s Khmer food, which can be an adventure itself. It is somewhat similar to Thai cuisine, except there is significantly less spice—just the way I like it. Also, the restaurants give free cups of rice for every meal ordered, so that works perfectly well.

The real adventure, however, begins outside of the city proper. If you’re lucky to have a tour guide like Bunleat, you will have a refresher course in history and literature—while traversing fallen stone slabs and piles of rubble.

Beng Melea, which has been largely unrestored, is quite an adventure of the moss-covered rock kind. Angkor Wat, in all its splendid glory, was a revisiting of stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata, and held interesting details such as the Hall of Echoes and the only apsara with teeth. Banteay Srei was an interesting counterpoint to Angkor Wat, considering that the pillars were made of blocks stacked on top of each other—and because it didn’t use the best, it looked older than Angkor Wat. Ta Phrom, made popular by Tomb Raider, has gigantic trees springing out of the rubble (also the cause of ruins)—making one believe that are is a Higher Power. Bayon was the state temple of the king and featured serene, gigantic faces—and yes, we sought shelter from the rain in one of the rooms that reeked of bat’s droppings. And despite the weariness, we managed to trek to the summit of Baphuon (about 40 meters or so in height), in a near-vertical climb.

After all of these, I have come to realize Siem Reap is for lovers—largely because there’s just too many around me. From the ones that are having a quiet breakfast in a café to the ones riding around the city on bicycles to the ones peered over a map, studying it intently. What Siem Reap has to offer is mean to be shared with a loved one.

As for the single ladies? There’s plenty of eye candy around—it’s not just the temples you look at for, uh, sightseeing!