PNoy football…redux

HERE’S a rather interesting and amusing story about PNoy and football which to this day no one will confirm nor deny.

When the then largely unknown Philippine men’s football team, now popularly known as the “Azkals”, qualified for the first time in the semifinals of the 2010 AFC Suzuki Cup via what will go down in the annals of international football as the “Miracle of Hanoi”, a courtesy call with then President Noynoy Aquino in Malacañang was de rigour.

After all, qualifying for the first time in the semi-finals of a major international football tournament is a milestone and a major achievement for Philippine football, more so winning matches against regional football giants.

Take note that before the “Miracle of Hanoi” the Philippine men’s football team was considered one of the minnows and favorite whipping boy of our much more football-savvy neighbours i.e. Singapore or Vietnam.

So off to Malacañang they went for that audience with then President Noynoy Aquino. During that courtesy call the “Azkals” i.e. Phil and James Younghusband, Chippy Caligdong and Chris Greatwich, together with then head coach Simon McMenemy, presented an autographed football, if I’m not mistaken the official game ball of that “Miracle in Hanoi” match, to then President Noynoy Aquino.

And to everyone’s surprise and amusement when presented with the autographed football, President Noynoy Aquino dribbled it not with his feet as what Russian President Vladimir Putin did when presented with the official ball for 2018 World Cup Russia but with his hand as in basketball. And that’s not all, he also made some gestures doing an imaginary jump shot and commenting that he wish he could dunk the ball.

Of course, everyone managed to contain their amusement and with much difficulty tried not to laugh or even smile, and politely ignored Noynoy Aquino just being himself.

Wait, that’s not all; during the courtesy call of the “Azkals” in Malacañang the conversation of course was about football and President Noynoy Aquino was asked what he thought about the performance of the midfielders as he claimed to have watch their AFC Suzuki Cup matches, and this, they said, was his reply: “Age should not be a hindrance, even our senior citizens can still be productive.”

And I’ll just let that sink in.

There’s more but it’s not about Noynoy Aquino; this one’s about that other Pinoyfavorite preoccupation, beauty contests, particularly the Miss Universe kind.

When Gloria Diaz won the 1969 Miss Universe crown she went on a world tour and one of her stops was Brazil and with it the usual TV appearance and media interviews by the Brazilian media.

Before we go to that interesting particular interview of the Philippine’s very own Miss Universe by the Brazilian media, let me give you a background of what was the talk of the town in Brazil in particular and most of Europe and South America at that time.

It was 1969, just a year before the 1970 FIFA World Cup in Mexico and the hottest and everyone’s favorite team and player was Brazil and the legendary Pele, probably the world’s greatest and most popular footballer.

Brazil led by Pele was, of course, the favorite to win the 1970 World Cup and naturally the Brazilians could not stop talking about him.

In one interview over Brazilian television, Miss Universe Gloria Diaz was asked what she thought of Pele and Brazil’s chances of winning the World Cup, and much to the dismay of the interviewer and the Brazilians, our very own Miss Universe, the pride of the Philippines, had no idea who Pele was and what the World Cup was all about.

Definitely a “major…major” faus fax and embarrassment to say the least. This particular “Miss Universe” moment even came out on Sports Illustrated.

Unless you’re from Western Visayas, particularly Iloilo and Bacolod, football is largely just a minor sport, second only to basketball, and yet football is the world’s most popular sport.

In our region Southeast Asia, except in the Philippines, football or soccer is the No. 1 sport.

Sadly in the Philippines the dream of most Pinoys is to play above the rim like LeBron James; too bad the average height for men in these islands is 5 foot 5 inches while the average height in the National Basketball Association or NBA is 6 feet and 6 inches.

Meanwhile despite all that “basketball is the national sport” mentality not a single Pinoy is good enough for the NBA.

And yet at one of the highest level of professional club football in Europe, the English Premier League or EPL, we have the number one goalkeeper of the Azkals Neil Etheridge playing for Cardiff City FC.

Lest we forget, the greatest footballer and legend of the greatest football club in the world, FC Barcelona, was an Ilonggo, Paulino Alcantara.

And what is the “Miracle of Hanoi”? At the 2010 group matches of the AFC Suzuki Cup the unheralded Azkals defeated the defending champions Vietnam 2-nil, knocking them out of the competition and qualified for the first time for the semi-finals, sparking a football renaissance in the Philippines.

Since then, the Azkals maintained their FIFA ranking as the top team in Southeast Asia and a football force to be reckoned with. ([email protected]/PN)

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