The Men in the Arena*

Originally posted in Pinoyfootball.

Philippine National Team captain and veteran defender Rob Gier summed up the match versus Turkmenistan quite succinctly during the post-match press conference.

“It was a tough game, it was totally, totally different from the Cambodia game,” he says, adding that the match versus Cambodia placed the limelight on the Philippines’ attackers. “(The Turkmenistan game) was all about the defenders. It just goes to show the different aspects of the team together, to be successful.”

“I think what’s special about this team is the team spirit,” Gier continues, pointing out that taking on the Turkmen demanded a lot from the Azkals, and the boys could not have done it if they didn’t get along. “We do it for the team, for the country, and for everyone that supports us.”

Indeed, it does take a very special group of people to achieve what these guys have achieved in quite a short span of time.

Consider 2012 a banner year for the Azkals with all the achievements and “firsts” they’ve managed to rack up—setting the stage quite nicely for a strong start in official matches this 2013. The 8-0 win versus Cambodia wasn’t just a victory—it was a statement.

And even that somewhat pales to the statement that was made when the Philippines finally beat Turkmenistan, 1-0.

Much has been and will be said about the match, including that particularly memorable shot by Phil Younghusband into the opening seconds of the game, how we started strongly, and managed to hold onto the lead despite being down to ten men.

All the credit goes to this team.

Credit Phil Younghusband for the goal, and credit him for all the times that he’s tried and missed and failed. He’ll keep fighting for those goals, as he had done with over 30 before. Credit him for the times he’s had to deal with one too many defenders eager to take him down.

Credit Javier Patiño for bringing the quality to the strike force that we had been badly missing and that Phil Younghusband needs to draw defenders away from him. Credit him for bringing the ball to the goal each chance he gets and for threatening opponents whenever he can.

Credit Jerry Lucena and Chris Greatwich for providing adequate defensive cover and finding the open men to attack.

Credit Carli de Murga and Angel Guirado for the Spanish flair that they bring to the right flank.

Credit Rob Gier and Juani Guirado for being staunch on defense, for giving us a sense of security even in those moments when momentum was turning in favor of Turkmenistan, in those moments when they tried their best to breach our back line.

Credit Roland Müller for the clean sheets he’s produced in these two very important games. Credit him for his solid, steady hands, for proving himself worthy of the starting spot in a position with several viable options. Credit him for no longer being defined as just a second choice.

Credit Dennis Cagara for his consistency. Against Turkmenistan, he effectively snuffed threats coming from his side. Credit him for playing a critical role in the play that led to Phil Younghusband’s goal to lift us past the Turkmen. Credit him for us having a dangerous left flank.

Credit Stephan Schröck for everything that he brings to this team. Credit him for always fighting for the ball, for managing a way out even when the opponents close down on spaces. Credit him for standing up a half-second later when he’s brought down, showing what tenacity is. Credit him for making things happen, not just for himself, but also for his teammates. Credit him for being a spark on the left flank, together with Cagara, relentless in attacking. Credit him for instilling in all of us a belief that we can overcome each opponent we are faced with.

Credit all the players that have seen limited or no playing time. Credit them for helping prepare this unit to achieve another milestone in Philippine football.

The match versus Turkmenistan proved to be a difficult hurdle—and one where lessons could be learned from hard work and experience. Credit the men in the arena for fighting tooth and nail for making another statement and for booking a place in Maldives in 2014.

*Title inspired by Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” quotation.

**And there is one man in that arena that I was particularly rooting for, largely because he has finally been given playing time in the national team. He had a nice little gesture the day after as well, and this is why I’ll continue supporting him.

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Of celebrity encounters and getting over the hump of sorts.

One of the causes closest to my heart is TEN Moves, which aims to raise funds for the construction of 10,000 classrooms all over the Philippines. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit several parts of the country and witness for myself the transformative power that a structure can have to the life of a student and to the community as a whole.

TEN Moves kicked off 2013 with a bang, staging “Run for 10”, a fun run aimed to ramp up the fundraising, especially as Typhoon Bopha (Pablo) devastated a number of classrooms in Mindanao, affecting over 200,000 schoolchildren. I’m glad that we were able to raise a significant amount of funds to contribute, and I look forward to visiting more communities this year.

While I was slightly bummed I wasn’t able to run (hazards of being part of the organizing team), I was lucky enough to get to meet some of TEN Moves’ celebrity advocates (and no, they aren’t earning a single cent from this advocacy work)—Derek Ramsay, Dingdong Dantes, and apl.de.ap. The guys nailed the messages when they went onstage.

Dingdong noticed my Spain NT shirt, and randomly commented, “Nice shirt,” while I was briefing them. And after I has my photo taken with the guys, Derek gets my iPhone, shows off the Union Jack skin to Dingdong and says, “This is so British!” “Between the two of you, I really am pandering to celebrities this morning,” I wryly say. Meanwhile, I got to interview apl.de.ap separately. He said he’s supporting TEN Moves because he wants other kids to be given a better start in their lives, like what was given to him—he definitely wants to inspire more kids.

Here’s a photo of Eunice and myself with the guys. I know some of you will be placing your own watermark on this, and I really don’t care anymore. Just make sure to spread the TEN Moves advocacy!

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I was able to catch the PFF-Smart National Club Championship Quarterfinals at the Rizal Memorial Stadium yesterday. Put it this way—it has been a day of getting over the hump of sorts.

Ceres is fast becoming the giant killers of this tournament. After beating UFL Cup champions Stallion the week earlier, it edged out Global, 1-0, much to my part-Ilongga self’s delight. I missed the early goal, but with what I saw, Ceres was generally stifling on defense. Global had a couple of good chances at the second half, including a shot from Carli de Murga that went just over the bar—seems like lady luck wasn’t on their side? Ceres could have made it 2-0, but they squandered a perfectly good chance to edge Global further.

But really, I was there for the second game between Kaya and Loyola. So they may be two big clubs, Loyola had a psychological advantage, given that Kaya hasn’t been able to beat them since Loyola came from behind to beat Kaya 5-3 in the 2011 edition of the UFL Cup. That said, this was an interesting match for a team that defends generally well (Kaya, albeit without Aly Borromeo and Anton del Rosario) and a high-scoring team.

Loyola was testing Kaya early on, but neither side failed to score in the first half. Loyola experimented with James Younghusband in the center midfield, Phil Younghusband coming from the left, and Chad Gould up front. I thought that while introducing Freddy Gonzalez in the second half added much-needed firepower (and seriously, only Freddy G really tested Saba), his entry came at the expense of Loyola’s defense—and OJ Porteria capitalized on that, from a cross by Jonah Romero—giving Kaya the lone goal of the game, enough to see them through the semifinals against Ceres.

As for me, I was just all too happy to see Chris Greatwich play. He’s doing well in the role of Kaya’s midfield general, and it may be his presence plus the new coach and all, but I haven’t seen Kaya this organized in quite a while. Naysayers can prove me wrong, but I really think this Greatwich may just prove to be all too influential for this club. Gotta appreciate the quality he brings on the pitch.

That said, I just may have had that moment of finally realizing a semblance of emotional investment in a local club. Uh-oh.

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P.S. It’s so awesome we get Henderson, Suarez, Sturridge, and Gerard on the scoresheet versus Norwich City. Now that’s the Liverpool I need to see more of.

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P.P.S. Real Madrid thrashed Valencia 5-0 as well. I’ve been spoiled with this weekend’s football results.

Of draws, disappointments, and grand gestures of love.

The good: We managed to keep a clean sheet in the first leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup semifinals.

The bad: We couldn’t manage to score a goal. Singapore just dominated us. Good thing their decisiveness in the final third was absent as well.

The lowdown: Posted all my verbal diarrhea here.

The crazy:

Well, this happened on Twitter a couple of days before the match:

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Because Chris Greatwich saw my Twitter quip, you know I gotta stand by my word:

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Well, no Chris Greatwich in action—come on, HMW! Stop sticking to your favorites and deploy some actual tactics! But hey, I hope the guy felt the love.

I’ve been told he came over and said, “I’m signing that one.” (Missed it—media room duties!) Here’s proof:

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1/3 love, 1/3 insanity, 1/3 this guy really needs to be on the pitch for crying out loud.

For the record, we also pulled through with a banner for Demit Omphroy:

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Yep, too much fun with puns. Still waiting for these two to be unleashed. Should I now have a banner in German for HMW?

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A Timely Reminder…

…from none other than Chris Greatwich himself. I am up to my eyeballs with football matches, Christmas parties, and work that never ends.

But hey, better to be busy than doing nothing!

Notes from a commentators’ booth extra.

I have a confession to make: I don’t watch a lot of local league games as I ought to.

Blame it on still trying to have a semblance of balance in my life or just the fact that I have too many things on my plate and would rather watch reruns of the overly vapid Keeping Up with the Kardashians, but I just haven’t been able to do so. It’s as if it’s not enough that I wake up at ungodly hours to catch matches in Europe, but that I have to spend afternoons and evenings watching even more football too. It’s not that I am complaining—it’s just that I have other (trivial, seemingly) matters to attend to.

Upon the insistence invitation of Ryan, I trooped to the University of Makati yesterday evening to watch the quarterfinals match between the Loyola Meralco Sparks (I swear to the high heavens, the name still reminds me of a women’s basketball team) and Stallion FC. And boy oh boy, that was one hell of an introduction to live UFL action.

I suppose it is fair to say that the match began with both teams pretty even, with lots of running, attacking, and counter-attacking. Naturally, there’s always that one point in most matches when the momentum swings the way of one team. That, I thought, was during the first Phil Younghusband goal early into the game, off a defensive error by Stallion FC. And really, that threw the Ilonggos off their game.

To make the match even more interesting, I was treated to a flurry of fouls and cards. After one Stallion FC player got sent off (I apologize, I should know who they are), Mr. Younghusband scored another goal, pretty much adding insult to injury.

Gotta hand it to the Ilonggos though—they did eventually go down 2-1, but they sure went down fighting. I do remember they had more shots on goal—quite a feat especially having been down to nine men.

That said, while the match was high on entertainment value, you can’t say the same for everything else. The officiating was terrible—there were instances when cards should have been shown but weren’t, and jeez, even the medical team entered the pitch while the ball was in play. I’d say it would have benefited everybody if the referees had a better handle on the game.

It’s also quite refreshing to see such rabid fans for both sides, especially for the Ilonggos—it’s the closest I’ve seen to Pinoy football hooliganism.

Something tells me I’m going to be watching more local league matches pretty soon.

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But really, if you ask me, the highlight of my evening was meeting the one and only Chris Greatwich. Of course, I’m playing it cool with the guys at the commentators’ box, but internally, I was spazzing, “Holy fuck, it’s Chris Greatwich!”

I’ll be pretty candid in saying that when I started paying attention to the Philippine NT, it’s Chris Greatwich that first comes to mind. He’s the guy that scored the equalizer against Singapore and the first goal when the Philippines defeated Vietnam, 2-0.

And in one moment of incredible vanity, here’s a snapshot. Yeah, I look too happy, it’s so ridiculous.