Since the Philippine Azkals gained unprecedented popularity after their showing in the Asian Football Federation Suzuki Cup last year, HB and I began to religiously follow the National Football Team who raised the awareness of a basketball-loving nation to this most watched sport in the world. My HB said it best (of course I'm biased, lol) in his blog post earlier this year, "the time for Pilipinas Futbol has come..." And so we stood witness to all the team's home games this year.
A day after my birthday this year, HB and I flew to Bacolod to see the Azkals play against Mongolia at the Panaad Stadium for the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup qualifying match.
The football frenzy in this Negros province was palpable. Several hours before the game kicked off, all roads led to the Panaad Stadium.
|en route to the Panaad Stadium|
Just the sight of the bus of the Azkals players caused tremendous excitement.
Inside the stadium, the crowd united behind the Azkals team. We did several rounds of the "wave" and hooted "who let the dogs out..."
We witnessed the glorious victory.
|the celebratory fireworks|
And saw the mad dash of people to the football field after the game.
|Pandemonium on the football field|
We partied with the players and fellow fans at the roof deck of L' Fisher Hotel.
|with Rob Gier|
|with Chieffy Caligdong|
Last July 3, there was no stopping us from seeing the game which was held at the Rizal Stadium in Manila. This was the second leg of the match against Sri Lanka for the Asian Qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup.
|the Azkals warming up before the game|
This time, we took our girls and they too felt the Azkal-mania firsthand.
|me and my girls - all bitten by 'Azkalitis'|
|oh, but our whole brood was in fact bitten by the football fever|
In between cheering and screaming during the course of the game, I patiently staked out the moves of goal keeper Neil Etheridge.
|Neil Etheridge in action|
Until I personally felt triumphant with this shot:
Once again, we witnessed their victory.
|a glorious moment|
For the July 28 home game against Kuwait for the second round of the World Cup Asian Qualifiers, I was in Cebu on a business trip. I took the first flight out that morning and got on an afternoon flight to meet HB and my girls at the Rizal Stadium. I was very late and the lone goal of Steffan Schrock had happened by the time I got into the bleachers. But as soon as I saw the happy faces of my girls, I felt more successful than the Kuwaitis.
|these girls were out there even if it was a school night|
Despite the Azkals' loss to the Kuwaiti team, we all felt like winners still. We all beamed with pride. There was no shame in the loss. It was a historic moment not only for the football team, but more so for the football die hard fans who have wished long enough for our nation to embrace this dynamic sport like its own.
|Chieffy Caligdong, head held up high during the lap of honor|
And then the stuff in which only dreams were made of happened last night. THE David Beckham played on our country's turf and showed us all why and how football is "the most popular sport in the world."
Once again, we stood as witness to the realization of the Dream Cup between the Philippine Azkals and the LA Galaxy.
We almost missed this chance but the great heavens smiled down upon us by dropping some tickets onto our laps twenty two hours before the game. (Many thanks to my brother and sister in law who shared their wonderful blessing with our family!) Four hours before the game, two more VIP tickets (shown in the photo above) were given to us by HB's former football coach. (Many thanks too, Coach Bob!)
|with Maricar and Julio Sulit|
It was a momentous event, a perfect culmination of a year's journey for the Philippine Azkal team, the fans and the faithful football followers.
It was all-together a historic year, not only with the wins and the glories, but more importantly, for the sport and our country. It's humbling really, to have those Fil-foreigners play for our motherland, to see our local players shine alongside them and to see them all together strive to bring glory to our country. I am grateful to have stood as witness to the journey of our national football team.
Until next year's ...
Until next year's ...