(This is my Fair Play column for SunStar Cebu’s Dec. 6 edition)
For most fans, Dec 5 is Azkals Day as 11 years ago, the Hanoi Miracle happened. It was the day Philippine football finally got into mainstream media’s consciousness with a 2-0 win over favorites Vietnam. From back page rejects to front page heroes.
Though I also consider the Hanoi Miracle one of the greatest moments in Philippine football history; the miracle I consider happened six years earlier in 2004 during the Tiger Cup, the name of the AFF Championship then.
Nobody bothered writing about the Philippine team. Heck, I think we were the only outfit in the Philippines that bothered to follow the matches and report about them. After losing the very first game against Myanmar via an injury time goal, we faced Malaysia next and though we lost, 4-1, we had a couple of first according to the commentator–the first goal scored by Chad Gould in the 90th and the first penalty stop by Michael Casas.
What a difference the tone of the commentators was in the game. I remember, two years before, during that embarrassing 13-1 loss to Indonesia, the commentators had such low regard for the Philippines and its tactics that they seemed to be coaching the team, as if willing the players to listen to them so they could at least avoid a goal or score one.
That 2004 team was way better than the 2002 squad. With Chris Greatwitch, Chad Gould and Aly Borromeo and led by Aris Caslib, they were no pushovers. That team erased the memory of the Philippines being pushovers.
The game against Timor Leste had us screaming in our pantry as we watched the tiny TV–barely a foot wide. There we were, three football fans, me and two editors, both barely on speaking terms due to an early dispute but united in watching the game. Timor Leste got the lead but Emilio Caligdong scored two injury time goals for a 2-1 win.
It was the match against Thailand that had us believing in Miracles. Taking a 1-0 lead thanks to another Caligdong goal had us dreaming of an emphatic “PH BEATS THAI” headline. A major win against a major team in Southeast Asia’s major tournament. But it didn’t happen that year.
It came six years later against Vietnam in Vietnam.
Now, though mainstream media regularly talks about the team, interest in the Azkals have waned. Though we’ve regularly made the semifinals, we’ve never gotten past it. Home matches, packed full during the heydays from 2011 to 2014, were rarely full.
But I think another Azkals Day will bring all of that back. No, I’m not talking about another Hanoi Miracle match, I think we’ve all past that.
The next Azkal Day is the day the team wins the Suzuki Cup. Nobody expected the Azkals to beat Vietnam in 2010 and nobody expects the Azkals to win this year’s Suzuki Cup simply because the preparation has been, to put it bluntly, horrendous.
And one thing I like about Philippine football, the team delivers when everyone least expects it.
Check this short post on the original Azkals logo drawn in 2004.