Thoughts on the Azkals-Al Azraq Match

Thanks to a mild hamstring strain, I stayed home for the better part of the weekend. After my morning class in Makati, I headed straight home to catch the UAAP festivities, the replay of the Monaco Diamond League and the PBA-NBA All Stars match. The Philippines was set to play mighty Kuwait early Sunday morning, in the second round of World Cup qualifying. Despite being exhausted by the heavy trading days the past week and the multitude of sporting spectacles listed above, I soldiered on.

After missing the past few editions World Cup qualifying, the now-popular Azkals made history by bursting into the second round. Pitted against a powerhouse Kuwaiti team that eked out hard-earned draws against regional powers Japan and Australia, the lowly-ranked Philippine team was cannon fodder – on paper at least.

Hence, I just had to endure the lure of sleep dust.

The first-half was action-packed. The Philippines’ ace striker Phil Younghusband had two golden opportunities to score, at one point in the match hitting the crossbar following a thunderous strike. Attacking midfielder Angel Guirado, who is of Filipino-Spanish descent, also nipped the bar with a powerful, point-black header.

A mighty counter-attack by the Kuwaitis ensued after Guirado’s close shave with scoring an upset goal. A Kuwaiti winger let loose an accurate cross to a teammate, who headed a searing shot to the back of the net, eluding the outstretched arms of Fulham’s Neil Etheridge. The home side went on to score two more goals, as it dominated possession all throughout the match. The Philippine defense was in seeming disarray, sans captain Aly Borromeo. Etheridge made some fine saves to keep the deficit from building up.

The Filipinos were unable score in the remainder of the match, against the well-oiled (pun-intended) Kuwaiti footballing machine.

I was disappointed, of course. But we had our chances. Kuwait was indeed at an entirely different level of football, in light of its relatively storied football pedigree. It was the first time I stayed up late for a football match – an unthinkable thought a few years ago for this hardcore athletics fan! Despite the loss, I enjoyed the game. I shouted passionately with each missed goal attempt, saying to myself that, hey, an upset is in the offing!

I don’t see myself following professional football matches or the UFL any time soon. My loyalties still lie with athletics and the occasional basketball (tennis, boxing, etc.) game. Most of the rules and nuances of the beautiful game are still alien concepts.

When the Azkals (or the Malditas) are aired on live TV, I’ll be glued to the boob tube to cheer on my countrymen. Since matches and competitions featuring our various national teams are rarely given media coverage, I might as well take advantage of what’s readily available!

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