Category Archives: Azkals

Chieffy to the Rescue!

Emilio “Chieffy” Caligdong scores the winning goal against Vietnam!

Bal David and Chieffy Caligdong: Long-Lost Brothers?

Is it just me, or is there an uncanny resemblance between former Ginebra star Bal David and Azkals striker Chieffy Caligdong?


Photos from Tunying’s Flickr and Mobilemaui’s Tumblr

I first noticed the similarity last night, while watching an old PBA Youtube clip. It has been years since I last saw Bal David on the boob tube and I must say that those two can pass as brothers! Both are agile, shifty speedsters known for exciting plays. Aside from the physical resemblance, their athletic endowments are identical as well.

Bal David and Chieffy Caligdong as long-lost siblings? Perhaps!


Home Track: Thoughts on the Rizal Memorial Stadium

I’ve been an avid reader of Rick Olivares’ Bleachers Brew since 2006, the year of the Ateneo Football three-peat. I found inspiration in the exploits of that Hall-of-Fame champion team, which Rick so eloquently wrote about in one of his most endearing pieces. Since then, I’ve written incessantly about my experiences as an athlete. Words, when properly written, immortalize moments in a way modern media could hardly reprise.

To be featured in Brew is a great honor. Thank you, Rick!

I was a fifteen-year old high school junior when I first laid my eyes on the Rizal Memorial Track & Football Stadium. I can still remember that big lump of nervousness I felt on my chest, as I lined up for my first ever athletics competition. The track was wet, thanks to a light morning drizzle. Clad in my awkwardly long basketball shorts and spike-less running shoes, I shivered with both fear and cold as I waited for my heat to commence.

Click here to read the rest of the post

*Note: This article also appears in In the Zone.


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!

AFC Challenge Cup Qualifying: Azkals Wallop Blue Wolves, 2-0!

A thousand kilometers from Pana-ad Stadium, I could feel the sheer electricity of the venue. The sight of thousands of Filipinos cheering for a sport other than basketball was indeed surreal. I watched the first leg of the Philippines – Mongolia AFC Challenge Cup at the gym. Boy, I could hardly move away from the boob tube!

Firequinito explains the significance of the AFC Challenge Cup here

The Azkals dominated the Blue Wolves from the start. Buoyed by the home crowd, the Filipinos tasted blood at the onset, having more shots at goal than the visiting Mongolians. Chieffy Caligdong scored a magnificent goal in the 45th minute. Tossing the ball to his right to elude a Mongolian defender, the prolific Caligdong accurately kicked the the ball in between the goalie’s legs.

It was an all-Philippines show all throughout. The luckless Ian Araneta had the most shots at goal, hitting the crossbar at several occasions. Simon Greatwich almost made a spectacular bicycle kick hit the back of the net. Despite the best of their efforts, the score remained just 1-0, in favor of the Azkals.

Read Rick Olivares’ post-game wrap-up

Read Miko Halili’s article here

Fulham’s Neil Etheridge looked like he hardly broke a sweat (well, I’m exaggerating), compared to Mongolia’s keeper – who had his hands full deflecting a fusillade of shots from the trigger-happy Filipinos. Having been deprived of a home game during last year’s AFF Suzuki Cup semifinal in light of domestic football’s resurgence,  one can truly understand the goal scoring frenzy! According to an Inquirer report, it was the Philippines’ first home game in 3 years.

In injury time, Phil Younghusband finally converted, nailing the ball home with a looping left-footed kick.

The post-game festivities brought goosebumps to this Filipino sports aficionado. Accustomed to seeing our best athletes succumb most of the time, my heart welled up with pride as the fireworks lit up the sky. The Orange and Lemons song “Pinoy Ako” (the soundtrack of the 2005 Manila Southeast Asian Games) jived perfectly with hometown exultation.

Football still seems alien to me. I scratched my head at unfamiliar calls. I have the faintest knowledge of football tactics and history, unlike the prolific Rick Olivares. Track & field is my area of expertise, but seeing my countrymen play whilst being cheered on by ten thousand screaming Filipino fans made me appreciate of the beautiful game even more deeply.

Video credits:

Studio 23





“What is your profession?”

Whilst watching the pre-game analysis from last night’s Azkals game, the haughty Star Sports analyst made an interestingly poignant observation. He pointed out that most of the Filipinos, save for a handful of Fil-foreigners, are part-time footballers. When pitted against honest-to-goodness professionals, a glaring difference in “physicality” comes to the picture.

True enough, even the English-born Younghusband brothers are currently unattached. Our homegrown players are mostly members of the nation’s Armed Forces. Even though the Philippines has a nascent semi-pro football league in the UFL, this pales in comparison to its regional counterparts like Singapore’s S-League or the Thai Premier League.

One of the most famous scenes in “300” came into mind. Leonidas asked the Spartan allies, the Akkadians, their respective professions. The answers were diversely mundane. But when the legendary Spartan king asked his crack troops “what is your profession?” a loud and intimidating “ah-woo! ah-woo! ah-woo!” was their answer.

This is certainly the case for most Olympic sports, now that the lines of strict amateurism and professionalism has become porous. Aside from amateur boxing, professionals are allowed to run roughshod over major international competitions, putting the amateur at a major disadvantage.

There lies the underlying fundamental factor that spells the difference between victory and defeat. Take the example of athletics, for instance. I can only name a handful Asian medalists in recent Olympic history. Aside from the naturalized athletes of oil-rich middle eastern countries, only Susanthika Jayasinghe சுசந்திக ஜெயசிங்க்ஹி, Hadi Souan Somayli هادي صوعان الصميلي‎, Dmitry Karpov, Xing Huina 邢慧娜 and Liu Xiang 刘翔 had finished within the top 3. The Europeans have won countless medals in the aforesaid time period.

Truly, an amateur pursues his/her respective sport as a passion, as something on the side. Whereas the professional practices the sport as a career. Having the domestic infrastructure to support a professional league speaks volumes about a particular sport’s development. Take the case of the Philippine basketball. Despite setbacks in international competition the past few years, Filipino cagers rank among the best in Asia. In the newly-established ASEAN Basketball League, Filipinos play for our Southeast Asian neighbors as imports to beef up their respective locals.

The same cannot be said of football, athletics or any other sport not part of the Four B’s (Basketball, Boxing, Billiards and Bowling). In Athletics, for instance, the backbone of the sport is comprised of collegians. A club scene is virtually non-existent, with competition being mostly schools-based. After college, only the most talented and dedicated athletes progress to the national team ranks. A slot in the crack national squad merits a modest stipend. International exposure is afforded only to the elite few. World-class training and facilities are hard to come by. In contrast, the Europeans have a vibrant system of athletics clubs for all ages. Clubs like France’s Dynamic Aulnay Club, Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon and Germany’s MTG-Mannheim have produced successful internationals like triple jump sensation Teddy Tamgho, 2004 Athens Olympic silver medalist Francis Obikwelu and the 2010 European 100m dash Champion Verena Sailer, respectively.

Hence, there is continuity of talent. A career in sports can be a financially-adequate, even lucrative profession – where one is not bound to live in the margins of penury whilst pursuing one’s passion.

Azkals end glorious AFF Suzuki Cup run

The Azkals lose to the Merah Putih, 0-1.

Cristian Gonzales’ accurate shot at the 43rd minute spelled the difference between victory and defeat. The Uruguayan-born striker made the stellar shot after several tantalizingly close attempts. The Philippines’ prolific goalkeeper, Neil Etheridge, did the best he could to stop the powerful volley from hitting the back of the net.

To quote the words of a college friend and football fan, RJ Jalijali, even Iker Casillas couldn’t stop that shot.

Photo from AFF Suzuki Cup

All game long, the Indonesians had more chances at goal. The Philippine defense was relatively more porous this time, with the Indonesians having quite a few close shaves. A combination of sheer luck and superb goal keeping kept the deficit from growing any further.

We had our chances though. Chris Greatwich, who owns 2 of the Philippines’ 3 goals this tournament, had a couple of missed opportunities. The New Jersey-based striker almost equalized with a header that landed on top of the net.

Nevertheless, it was a great run for the Azkals. Let’s just hope that all these new-found attention showered upon our national football team will not turn out to be mere flashes in the pan.

The magnificent Azkals run had piqued my interest on the beautiful game. I am still not a football fan though. I probably never will be. But I am definitely watching the next Azkals game aired on TV (whenever that is) – for flag and country.

There are just some things that transcend personal preferences.

Video credit:


Reposting: An Official Statement from the Azkals

I missed the Philippines – Burma game last night. With host country Vietnam beating Singapore, 1-0, the Azkals earned a spot in the supposed home-and-away semis with their scoreless draw against the Burmese. But then again, there shan’t be a “home” game for the erstwhile whipping boys of Southeast Asian football. According to the AFF, the Philippines “will not be able to play a leg of their semi-final or subsequent final at a home venue due to no available stadia in the country meeting the requirements for the AFF Suzuki Cup.”

According to a tweet by Inquirer sports scribe Cedelf Tupas, “the AFF wants a stadium with a minimum capacity of 30,000” – the Panaad Stadium in Negros Occidental only seats 20,000.

The Azkals express their thoughts in an official statement (originally posted in Rick Olivares’ Bleachers Brew).

An Official Statement from the Philippine Men’s National Football Team


The Philippine National Men’s Football Team would like to offer to every Filipino this great triumph achieved in the football fields of Vietnam.

In the 14-history of the Suzuki Cup, the Philippines only qualified twice in the biennial competition that is at once the most prestigious tournament in the Asean region.

To get through the final rounds competition in Vietnam, we played three qualifying matches Laos where we finished second to the host country to advance to Vietnam.

And for the first time, we have advanced to the semifinals where the Philippines will play Indonesia in a home and away series where the winner, determined through the aggregate goal score, will play for the championship.

As we drew 1-1 with mighty Singapore and beat the defending champions Vietnam on their home turf 2-nil with 40,000 people in the stands cheering them on, we got word of how you, our fellow Filipinos watched us, cheered us, and sent us messages of support.

Believe us when we say that it was fantastic to hear and see all of that considering how the sport has largely gone unnoticed back home. We hope that this will be the start of football taking its rightful place as a premier sport In the Philippines.

As we drew Myanmar in a scoreless affair that saw us finish second to Vietnam in our Group, we received word that the Asean Football Federation has deemed that our homefield of Panaad, Bacolod to not be up to the requirements of the AFF Suzuki Cup after consultations with PFF President Jose Mari Martinez and therefore our hard-fought “home game” will be played either in a neutral venue or at the homefield of the other semis winner.

We deplore this decision that was arrived at without consulting the national team management team or even having the facilities inspected. We believe that this is an opportunity to provide Filipinos with a chance to watch some world-class football action that will inspire our countrymen to take up the sport and break new ground for the Philippines.

Just as you were all on our side when we were playing in Vietnam, we ask that every Filipino and football fan out there to express this indignation with regard to this decision in every venue, fora, or media so that we may treat the country to Azkals football. We implore you to express yourself on twitter, facebook, messenger, and everywhere else.

After all, the home field game is rightfully ours.

The Philippine National Men’s Football Team

Team Manager – Dan Palami, Head Coach – Simon McMenemy, Assistant Coaches – Edwin Cabalida, Edzel Bracamonte, Roland Piñero, Trainers — Wally Javier and Josef Malinay, Media Officer – Rick Olivares, and the players — Ian Araneta, Jerry Barbaso, Yanti Barsales, David Mark Basa, Joebel Bermejo, Alexander Borromeo, Emelio Caligdong, Christopher Camcam, Jason de Jong, Anton del Rosario, Neil Etheridge, Mark Ferrer, Roel Gener, Robert Gier, Christopher Greatwich, Peter Jaugan, Ray Jonsson, Nestor Margarse, Reymark Palmes, Kristopher Relucio, Eduard Sacapaño, James Younghusband, and Philip Younghusband.

AFF Suzuki Cup Upset: The Philippines beats Vietnam, 2-0!

I just watched an entire football game on TV.

The Philippines stopped the Vietnamese juggernaut, two goals to nil. Fresh from drawing three-time AFF Champions Singapore, the Azkals followed it up with an emphatic victory over the regional powerhouse – the most resounding upset in AFF history!

Photo from AFF Suzuki Cup website

Read “Azkals beat Lions in AFF Suzuki Cup”

Chris Greatwich scored a header in the first half, silencing the highly partisan crowd. Despite a multitude of goal attempts, the Vietnamese couldn’t find an opening into the solid Filipino defense anchored on captain Aly Borromeo and Fulham’s Neil Etheridge. Phil Younghusband buried the hapless, oftentimes luckless Vietnamese into a 0-2 deficit as the game wound to a close.

Watch the priceless, post-game videos from Bleachers Brew

Read Rick Olivares’ “Giant Killer” from Bleachers Brew

Read the article on the game from the AFF Suzuki Cup website

All throughout the game, this football ignoramus was in constant awe, grunting with each close call – cheering with each fine play!

Photo from AFF Suzuki Cup website

Like I always say, I am not a football fan. I didn’t partake of the World Cup euphoria a few months ago. Frankly speaking, I did not see the point staying up until the wee hours of the morning just to watch a bunch of guys kick balls. Unless it’s an Ateneo football game or my sister’s team (or any of the other sisters’ team, if you get what I mean!), I don’t watch football at all!

I must admit that the resurgent Philippine national football team got me interested in the so-called beautiful game. My daily dose of Bleachers Brew also did much to get me into football mode. Call me overly patriotic, but when I see the “PHILIPPINES” written in front of a team jersey, I just get hooked. In a sense, this isn’t surprising, since international-level sporting spectacles hardly get featured in local TV.

Go Azkals!

Video credit:


Azkals draw Lions in AFF Suzuki Cup

Like I always say, I love a good underdog story!

A few days ago, I heard the good news of the Philippine national men’s football team’s astounding draw over three-time AFF Suzuki Cup champions Singapore. Fil-Briton Chris Greatwich scored a match-tying goal in the dying minutes of the game.

I am not a football aficionado, but I do appreciate such stellar feats of athletic fortitude.In basketball terms, the Philippines drawing Singapore is like Laos’s national basketball team narrowly losing an overtime game against Smart Gilas!

This Philippine team is no push-over. The line-up is an amalgam of hardy full-blooded Pinoys and Fil-foreigners currently playing in European professional leagues. For instance, Neil Etheridge is an alternate goalkeeper for the English Premier League team Fulham! Now that’s impressive. In track & field terms, it’s like having a world championship finalist competing for the flag and country!

I have absolutely no qualms in recruiting foreign-born athletes with Filipino ancestry to beef up our national squads. It’s a lot better than naturalizing full-blooded foreigners. The “Azkals” is an apt name for our national football team. Azkal, askal or asong-kalye quite literally translates into a hardy, street-smart dog of mixed ancestry. In a sense it’s solid representation of the Filipino diaspora. An askal, after all, is the hardiest of dogs!

For in-depth analysis and timely updates on the Azkal’s AFF campaign, read Rick Olivares’ fine sports blog, Bleachers Brew.

The next assignment for the Philippine team is powerhouse Vietnam. The game will be aired live tonight at 7:30 PM on Star Sports, if I’m not mistaken.

Go Azkals!

Video credits:



%d bloggers like this: