Thursday, 9 December 2010

The Final Score: PHL Azkals and the power of televised sports

By Mico Halili

Through word of mouth, passed on by animated tweets, built up by excited status messages on Facebook, our football Azkals are suddenly the toast of the town. Two goals, so out-of-this-world, silenced Vietnam's mammoth home-crowd and awakened the patriotic DNA of a nation now curious about soccer. Who are these guys?

As soon as Chris Greatwich's header bounced into the net, past Vietnam's goal-keeper, social networks immediately took notice, like a new continent suddenly popped-up on the map. It was a twisting header, so twisted in so many ways. The television commentator, swathed in disbelief, still uttered a fitting annotation, "That is totally…bizarre." Philippines 1-nil. Welcome to the Twilight Zone.

The goal reverberated across media platforms, sent text messages scurrying back and forth like soccer balls in a passing drill and compelled sports fans, who were home on a Sunday night, to suddenly follow a tournament they, most likely, never heard of. And I immediately thought: this is what we missed when the Asian Games weren't televised. The anxiety. The rapture. The pride. It's wanting to see if we could do what we thought we couldn't do.

Fans scampered to find the cable channel. They saw the score, 1-nil, and asked their footballer friends why this one-point lead meant so much. Even if they didn't know the difference between an off-side and a legit attack (which is really like the never-ending debate between a charging and a blocking foul in basketball - no one's ever really sure), they eventually understood what was going on. They were cheering for an underdog team. It's a concept we've been injected with at birth.

Protect the lead. Hang on. Instant soccer fans pleaded. As the Azkals' defense dodged shot after shot, Vietnam fired what felt like 1,000 attempts, viewers in the Philippines held their breath. The television commentator said our boys defended like Trojans. We agreed 100 percent. How exhilarating it must have been if, in the last Asian Games, we also witnessed how medals were won and lost. There is catharsis in watching effort beyond reason. There is learning in observing performance without preparation. For every inexplicable save by Neil Etheridge, fans threw punches in the air. For every minute that elapsed, fans' belief in our Azkals grew stronger.

By the time Phil Younghusband took his defender to the high school dance and punched in the dagger, the nation's football converts were already numb. 2-nil. Against the home team. Against the defending champions. The television commentators were running out of adjectives. We were running out of breath.

Such is the influence of televised sports. It unites. It reveals. As seconds evaporated, the magnitude of a 2-zero result sunk in. We need to see our athletes on television so a) they can showcase their grit and, just as poignantly, b) corrupt officials who often prevent them from doing so can be exposed. Who are these guys? They're Team Philippines! And they need to be on TV. And it will help if we all watch. - GMANews.TV

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