Saturday, July 30, 2011

Thank You, Azkals!

Philippine Azkals and Kuwait  Al Azraq battled it our at Rizal Memorial Stadium, Manila

Well done. It was a game worth the wait, worth the hype, and worth watching, live; despite the rain. We lost to a more superior and more experienced team, the Al Azraq of Kuwait. It was victory though for Philippine football. Never has football gained nationwide popularity and recognition in this country which is still more passionate on basketball. The whole world, including our ASEAN neighbors, though, are football crazy.

So much has been said about the game. I have to add my take.

The game was again lost in the 2nd half. The Azkals played a good fighting first half, punctuated by that classic goal by Stephan Schrock in the closing minute of the first half to go 1-nil.. But the 2nd half was a different story.. It was apparent that the lax on defense did them in. Despite playing with only 10 men after a member was thrown out following  a hard tackle on Chieffy Caligdong, the Kuwaitis never panicked . Their short passes were always a threat. Our players was not able to capitalize on the Kuwaitis manpower deficit. They were quite slow in going back to defense after a failed offense. The first goal was a shocker. The 2nd goal was the result of not being able to go back fast on defense.  They simply were just passed by a streaking Kuwaiti from the center of the field down to the top of the penalty area. On this one on one situation, goalie Neil Etheridge was forced to go out of the goal and meet the head on the rushing Kuwaiti, leaving the goal wide open. In football, a split second lapse can be punished severely. Most often, this will cost the game.

My hats are off to Fil-German Stephan Schrock. He was my MVP. He was everywhere. From defense to orchestrating offense. From left field to center to right field. His defense was superb, spiked by those spectacular saves and tackles. His bullet shot from way out got the whole stadium and the whole country in frenzy and wild jubilation. That shot was a reel highlight. I saw it coming. We were seated just in front of that area and the resiliency of Chieffy fighting for that ball near the corner marker before Shrock got the ball was not lost on me. And have you seen Schrocks' very Filipina looking mother, Maria, who flew all the way from Germany to watch his game?

We don't know when we will see another  football game of this caliber in the future. There is the Under 23 SEA Games in November this year and the AFC Challenge Cup next year but will be played somewhere else. For now, we hail our heroes, our Azkals, for a job well done. We thank too the coaching staff and the Philippine Football Federation. for making this happen. In a gesture of this gratitude and admiration, we in the crowd, did not leave the stadium immediately after the game. We waited and cheered as our Azkals heroes made their traditional oval run. That was also their way of thanking the Filipino fans for all their support and love of the team. It was a touching moment; for us; and for them too.

Football, the beautiful game, has finally arrived in the Philippines.  

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Go Azkals!

Make or break. Do or die. Go or stay home. Experience vs. upstart. Mission impossible. Will it rain for the Azkals? These are some of the descriptions of sportswirters and buffs for today's game of our own dear Azkals team vs. Kuwait. What else could I say but GO AZKALS.

All roads will lead to the fabled Rizal Memorial tonight. One of the biggest events in recent memory. One that unite our people. One that excites the nation. One that make us proud. Only Manny Pacquaio has surpassed this phenomenon. Win or lose, the Azkals has already made history. It's a joyful day, rain or no rain.

What's up for tonight. A very tall order. We have to overcome that 0-3 deficit. Almost a miracle. That's what Phil Star Sports say in bold letters: BELIEVE IN MIRACLE! Okay. Miracles do happen. How's that to happen?

My two cents worth. From defensive mood in the first game, we should play aggressive offense. We have to score. And ideally, we have to score early. That would inspire us and perhaps rattle the Kuwaitis. Fil-German Stephen Schrock  is expected to orchestrate the flowing offense and will also be at the forefront of defense with Aly Borromeo also back into action.. The offense should step up. We almost scored  in the first half then; perhaps their defense is not rock solid. Expect then that they will change strategy. Protecting their almost insurmountable 3-0 lead,I anticipate they'll move backward in defense, also in respect to the abilities of our attackers. But watch out for their offense too. They have strong attackers. And they can shift fast from defense to offense and vice versa. They are well conditioned .I don't think our weather will bother them as they are exposed to international events. Our Azkals should play as if this is their last. They have to run the full 90 minutes. Time is sticking. Obviously, while more on offfense, they should not throw caution in the wind on defense. The 12th man should come in all the time. The hometown crowd. Let's go rah rah rah.

I look forward to a good game. Such high caliber football does not happen here every day. A 2-1 Azkal win is doable. 1-0 is realistic. But 3-0 or 4-0? Come on! Kuwait is champion of Gulf Cup of Nation and West Asian Cup titles last year; both high level Asian tourneys. Football is Kuwait's national passion, perhaps more then Filipinos adore basketball.

I'm taking my family to the game. To support our Azkals. For our country. For the love of football.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Homecoming for SportyDad

SportyDad went on a weekend break to attend the UP HS Iloilo homecoming where our class was one of the honored jubilarians. T'was so good to be home. Home is UP Iloilo (now UP Visayas) where we spent the best years of our student days. The campus looked the same, the old buildings still standing and defying time, serving as mute witnesses to our growing up years. The playground now looked small; it looked big then when it was the main venue for our Sportsfest, student teach-ins, bonfires, etc. The reunion in sum was best described by Sen.Franklin Drilon, a member of the Golden Jubilarian class 1961  and adjudged as the Most Distinguished Alumnus. Indeed, he said, "this reunion uplifted our collective spirit and renewed our bond." And when Push on UP and UP Naming Mahal hyms were played, it was the older batches who seemingly sang the loudest.

Here's our batch with the Oblation. On my left, in blue shirt, is Nonong Araneta.

After the Saturday (July 22) dinner ball (which was the highlight of the affair), we proceeded to watch the Kuwait leg of the Azkals-Kuwait FIFA qualifier. We settled at the lobby of Smallville 21 hotel, located at Smallville, Iloilo's version of Eastwood. With us was our classmate, Mariano "Nonong" Araneta, Jr., the president of the Philippine Football Federation (PFF). His phones were busy, messages from Kuwait,  from local news reporters, and from many others. In between, we talked about the game, our prospects, strategy, personalities, skills and background of the players, news coverage, etc. Excitement, anxiety, rolled into one. 15 minutes from kick-off, he received a text message of the starting line-up. Definitely, the absence of Borromeo and Schrock necessitates some adjustments. He already sensed the weakness of the line-up; the left field to be manned by Jason Sabio. True enough, this is the left wing where the Kuwaitis made a killing on their attacks.

We jumped in excitement when Phil Younghusband had a clear opportunity to score the first blood as he left all defenders and faced one on one with the Kuwaiti goalie. Alas, to me he misfired that premature kick which was deflected by the goalie. Had he dribbled and side stepped one more, no way the goalie could have reached it. And Guirado's header which hit the bar was also very unlucky. We could have scored first and this could have definitely altered the complexion of the game. In the next ensuing play, the Kuwaitis, fast and superior in ball handling and movement counter atttacked. When near the corner area the Kuwaiti attacker was free, I could almost anticipate the next move. Kick to the center for a header cross. I've seen this over and over in European leagues, and indeed that was precisely done. The area was  quite covered but as luck would have it, Kuwait scored the first goal on a header. Still, there was hope. The 1-0 halftime score was acceptable.We went out of the hotel lobby and had ice cream at past 1 in the morning across the street. Somehow it cooled off the heat and tension. Our Azkals, we hoped, should concentrate more on defense in the 2nd half. But it turned out not to be. They lost focus, they found it hard to regroup and no substitute was called in for fresher legs. The Kuwaitis in turn displayed why they are one of the top teams in Asia.

We expect a closer game come Thursday at Rizal Memorial Stadium. Borromeo and Schrock will be back, perhaps the fancied Jerry Lucena and Mulders can play. Put in the hometown crowd. It will be an exciting game. A close game and a close Azkals victory is possible but a 4-3 aggregate which could make us advance to the next round is a tall, tall order.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Japan Wins FIFA Women's World Cup 2011

I've been looking for this news in our local newspapers for over a week. For all of football or soccer's popularity worldwide, with FIFA saying 29 million women and girls are already playing football, it amazed and disappointed me that it didn't merit attention in local news. And I thought everybody is going gaga over the Azkals. Finally, today, in my regular major newspaper, it merited space. And rightly so; for all the drama and historical significance that happened in Germany, the host nation.

Its significance: Japan, drawing strength from the misery of the tsunami disaster back home, won its first ever Women's World Cup championship in its first ever finals appearance. They also became the first ever Asian nation to win the championship after beating the favored USA team in the finals, 3-1 on penalty shoot-out after coming from behind twice in a 2-2 stand-off after regulation and extra time.They haven't beaten an American team in 25 meetings before that. On its road to the finals, they made waves by shocking the heavily favored home team, Germany, 1-0 in the quarterfinals. Then they beat Sweden, 3-1 in the semis to arrange the historic finals match against two time champion US team.

Back in Japan, the Japanese people celebrated with utmost jubilance and joy, tv footages shown and special newspapers edition printed and given to people. For a while, it gave them inspiration and happiness, with the tsunami disaster occupying their minds for quite a while now. That was the pressure these Japanese ladies carried with them when they flew to Germany to participate in this 16-nation women's tournament. Before their game against Germany, the players were reportedly shown "images of the destruction to remind them of their higher purpose." Two of the players are actually working with the operator of the failed nuclear plants, TEPCO. And after every game, the players ran around the oval with  a banner that read, "To Our Friends Around The World- Thank You For Your Support." Such great gesture.

Last week, after our German visitor told me that Japan upset Germany, I've been glued to ESPN and Star Sports hoping to watch their telecast. Then, after hearing from CNN the results of the semis, I kept on switching to ESPN and Star Sports again and searched in the Internet for their final schedule. All I watched was another big event, the British Golf Open, which also made history, having its oldest champion for many years in the person of 42 year old Irishman, Darren Clarke. But this is another story.

Related story: Japan Shocks The World, Wins World Cup

Monday, July 18, 2011

Marquez-Ramos: The Tune-up Fight That Never Was

This was the Juan Manuel Marquez - Likar Ramos fight yesterday. Marquez is already starting to prepare for his much awaited 3rd fight against our Pambansang Kamao, the pound for pound king, Manny Pacquiao, after drawing the first fight and losing on a close split decision on the 2nd.

After  some inactivity for some time, Marquez camp felt he needs a tune up fight before the November big showdown. So they looked for a fighter that could perhaps remove some rustiness due to the long lay-off. And they found this Colombian young fighter. And we, knowing the closeness of the first two fights between Pacquiao and Marquez wanted to see Marquez now to assess his condition.

We were  duped. The fight was a joke. And the Marquez camp didn't get what they wanted. With only one  big right, Ramos immediately fell down in deep slumber with over a minute left in the first round. Why, he even lay on the floor longer that the actual fight.

They chose not just a "lightweight," they chose a pasty. My kids were more amused looking at him unconscious from just that one punch. And to think that Marquez is not even noted as a knock-out artist. Known more as an effective counter puncher, he wins more on decisions and  knocks out his opponents only in later rounds.

Understandably, tune-up matches, being warm up fights, "easy" fighters are chosen to make sure of victory. This time however, they chose a lemon. And it just didn't serve their purpose. The audience was cheated.

The last time I remember a fight where the champion chose a wrong guy as his warm-up opponent was many years ago, in the early 2000's. The challenger was injured and could not be available for the fight, an under card to big, big fight in the US. So his handlers chose a relatively "unknown and relatively easy" boxer from the Philippines on short notice as replacement. The champion was a feared African fighter named Ledho Ledwaba.

The result? The unknown boxer from the Philippines knock him out cold in the 5th round to unexpectedly wrest the crown. The name of that Filipino boxer was Manny Pacquiao. The rest, they say, is history.

Check out Boxing Scene for the brief footage.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

UAAP Newsbreakers

This year's UAAP basketball tourney is becoming interesting; true to experts opinion. Here are two reasons why, so far.

The UP Fighting Maroons scored a mini shocker in its opening game yesterday. It  finally remembered how to win after defeating the UE Red Warriors, 69-61. With new coach Ricky Dandan, UP finally ended its 18 game losing streak, dating back to its last victory on august 22, 2009, an 83-78 victory over the De La Salle Green Archers. Last year, it went scoreless. Its last win over the UE Red Warriors was still in 2006. After losing all its game last season, indeed there is no way but up for the Maroons.

I studied high school at UP Iloilo, now UP Visayas. So, my heart still goes with UP. We used to cheer, push on UP on going to win"; it's alright, its okay, we'll gonna beat them anyway, etc. Even during that time, UP has always been the cellar dweller. Except in 1986 when PBA stars Benjie Paras, Ronnie Magsanoc, Eric Altamirano,and co. ended UP's long, long drought by winning the championship (This was the time that my wife was in UP Diliman, so she had a really wonderful and memorable UAAP experience). Oh, UP Beloved! Incidentally, next week, we are going home to UP Visayas to attend our alumni homecoming where we are Jubilarians.

The other newsbreaker yesterday was the victory of the UST Tigers over the rejuvenated NU Bulldogs in overtime. The highlight of the game was the match up of the celebrated rookie Bulldog Bobby Ray Parks against UST's guard Jeric Teng. Suddenly, UST becomes now not just a growling tiger in the midst. Parks performance, 16 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 blocks was more than just a respectable performance. The Bobby Parks-Jeric Teng one-on-one tussle reminds us of those one on one encounter in the PBA of  Jeric's father, Alvin,the "Robocop" defensive specialist with the San Miguel team against Bobby Ray's father, 7-time Best Import Awardee Bobby Parks. It's all in the family it seems.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tale of Two Rookies

They are outstanding players from the junior ranks of basketball and tennis.

The first one has a sports pedigree; a father who was a former UE Red Warrior and a PBA star and a mother who was a former varsity volleyball player at UST. He was schooled in an elite school down Katipunaan Road in Quezon City. Surely, he was honed by formal training sessions. The other boy's background is almost a complete opposite. He comes from a poor family in far away Iligan City in Mindanao. His father works as a janitor with National Power Corporation (NPC)  in Ditucalan, Lanao del Norte, near the famous Maria Cristina Falls. A "pulot boy" (ball retriever), he was discovered playing tennis using a soft drink bottle as his racket.( I know the place. In the early 80's when we were first hooked to tennis, we would travel here, some 20-30 minutes from the city proper, to play in these courts. Our pulot boys then were using flat wood as racket until we lent or gave them real rackets. In a short time, they become unbeatable.)

Keifer Ravena, the son of fomer PBA star Ferdinand "Bong" Ravena of the Purefoods Hotdogs team was recently promoted to the Ateneo Blue Eagles Senior basketball team after graduation from high school this year. He was expected to be a vital cog in their quest for a 4-peat championship. As a Junior stand-out, he led the Eaglets to 3 consecutive championships in the UAAP. He was also a mainstay of several national junior teams that competed in several international tournaments. We watched the UAAP opening basketball games  last Sunday, staying at the Big Dome for the 2nd game where Keifer would play. All told, his very first game as a senior was a flop, a disappointment. He was uncharacteristically scoreless on a single field goal attempt. I really don't know what happened. Coach Norman Black said he switched him to the No. 2 guard position which he was not comfortable. Whatever. Rookie jitters. For sure, he'll bounce back after this.

The other rookie is Jeson Patrombon, the pride of Iligan City. After his discovery by his ever supportive coach, mentor, etc, Manny Tecson, he was brought to Manila and trained under the Jalosjos Alabang Tennis Club. This is the tennis club founded, financed and supported by former Zamboanga congressman Romy Jalosjos while he was in jailed Muntinlupa Bilibid prison. After dominating the local juniors tournaments, he campaigned abroad, earning him the top ten ranking at the end of last year. Significantly, he played in all the majors, Austaralian, US, French and the latest Wimbledon. Last week,for the first time, he formally joined the Philippine Mens team that played against New Zealand in their Asia-Oceana Davis Cup tie. Jeson played in the reverse singles in the last day of the tie ( by that time, the Philippines already lost the tie, 0-3). He won the first set but lost the next two sets and the match.

To these young rookies, their first game was their baptism of fire. But they hold a lot of promise. Watch them from now on. They'll soon dominate the headlines.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Is Yao Ming Retiring?

This is the big news yesterday in the NBA off season. Accordingly, it was reported by the NBA News Website itself. Here, Manila Bulletin carried it in their front page news. I could just imagine how this news will be treated in China.

Yao Ming is the most popular Chinese basketball player ever and perhaps the most celebrated Chinese athlete in terms of worldwide impact and recognition. He is the face of China sports, basketball in particular. His entry to the NBA created a massive popularity of the NBA and basketball in China.

In his debut game as a top draft pick of the Houston Rockets in 2002, it was reported that hundreds of millions of Chinese basketball fans watched the game in television in China alone.China pinned down its hopes of barging into the world's basketball elite under his 7'6" tall frame, sweet shooting touch and agility rarely found in such big men. He was consistently voted as the starting center of the West All Star Team, outvoting even the other great big man in his prime days then, Shaquille O'Neal, thanks to his multitude of Chinese voting fans. Remember the words of NBA great now tv commentator Charles Barkley? ("I'll kiss his b--- if he can score in...") Well, Yao Ming scored in double figures and stood on his own against Shaq... Barkley ate his words.    

Yao's entry to the NBA had been delayed. China basketball had been refusing to release him from his local team, the Shanghai Sharks, to the Rockets. It was reported though they finally released him as a show of goodwill as part of China;s efforts to win the right to host the 2008 Summer Olympics. True or not this news maybe, Yao Ming's stint in the NBA far outweigh expectations.

These past seasons, Yao has been hobbled by foot injuries. It is unfortunate that he will leave still at the peak of his career. His 5 year USD 76million contract with the rockets has just expired in June. Add to that his numerous endorsement deals and Yao Ming will retire financially comfortable.

The UAAP Cage War Has Begun

The rains came, so did the crowds. We, my wife and two kids, came too to watch the opening of the UAAP Basketball Season 74. First game: La Salle vs. FEU. As we prepared to go, our first problem came: what color we will wear. My wife's animo is green, having finished her elementary and high school in La Salle Iligan (college was in UP Diliman). Me and my 2 kids go for FEU. No affinity whatsoever (I studied college in Iloilo) except that we just root for their players. We first sat with the green crowd but later, at my sons' request (they actually wore light green shirts), we transferred to a neutral corner near the FEU's yellow crowd where they were  free to cheer for the Tamaraws.

The game was a close one until late in the 3rd quarter when the Tamaraws started to pull away, courtesy of the 3-point clutch shooting of ace guard, RR Garcia. From there on to the end, the Archers never really threatened seriously. The Tamaraws fielded their reliable veterans, RR Garcia, Aldrich Ramos, Cawaling, Terence Romeo, Bringas and co. La Salle fielded a mix of new and old, putting more height in their new big men ,Torres and Von Opstal. But clearly, they were  outmatched in crunch time.

Where was La Salle's vaunted stiffling pressure defense? Instead, they opted to the man zone. Curiously, they lacked or had no firepower outside. Yet coach Dindo Pumaren fielded 3-point artist Sam Marata only midway in the 3rd quarter. He came  cold, though he managed a three. In the closing minutes, he was fielded back but it was too late.

The final score: 74-65. La Salle also lost in two other fronts; the cheering crowd and the pep squad in the intermission. They lacked intensity in their yells and cheers, even when the game was still close. The Animo was lacking. They were outcheered, outshouted and outperformed by the yellow and green crowd of FEU, which included showbiz personality Vice Ganda, an FEU alumnus who reportedly played basketball in those days of yore. In the intermission, FEU performed stunning acrobatic and gymnastics routines compared to La Salle's plain calisthenics performance.

If I could write a headline story out of it, I would report: Tamaraws Gore Archers! But oh yes, my wife still stood and sang her La Salle Alma Mater song.

We stayed a little while to watch the Ateneo-Adamson main game I just wanted to take a look at these two teams touted as contenders for the championship. Most especially I wanted to see the much talked about players of Ateneo, the 7" Greg Slaughter and the fancied rookie Keifer Ravena. We left at the half after the pep squad presentation with Ateneo laeading by a small margin.  Later we learned that the Blue Eagles defeated the Falcons in a low scoring game, 55-51.

It's too early yet. In fact it has just begun. But my crystal ball says it's gonna be a repeat of last year: Ateneo vs. FEU in the finals.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Saturday's Sports Special

The local sports scene is buzzing.

From the Azkals date last week to a full load weekend. The biggest and most talked about is the UAAP Season 74 opening today at the Marikina Sports Complex. An innovation which is a first in its history, it will open a la Olympic style with some 3,700 athletes from all 15 sports in the calendar expected to march.

Ateneo is this year's host and  Blue Eagle and PBA legend Olsen Racela will carry the torch and light the cauldron signalling the opening of the games. In the real Olympics, the identity of the who will do this lighting honor is the best kept secret of the opening and is only known or revealed when his moment of glory comes.

Tomorrow, the most prestigious event, basketball unfolds at the Big Dome and expect a full raucous crowd in attendance of the double header; FEU vs. La Salle in the 1st game and defending champion Ateneo against Adamson in the 2nd game.

News from Down Under of the Philippines
New Zealand Davis Cup tie looks bleak. Our Cecil mamiit and Ruben Gonzales lost their opening singles matches putting the Philippines i a 0-2 deep hole. Gonzales succumbed in 3 straight sets, 6-4,6-4,6-4 while our top netter Mamiit put in a good fight in 5 sets, 6-7(6), 7-6(4), 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. They now face the tough task of winning their crucial doubles match today and win the reverse singles matches tomorrow.

As a trivia, do you know that Cecil Mamiit is currently the hitting partner of the darling of women's tennis, my idol, Maria Sharapova?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Davis Cup: Philippines vs. New Zealand

Today, our tennis national team embarks on its own journey, for country, for tennis, and perhaps for recognition they long deserved.

It's Philippines vs. New Zealand in the 1st round of the Asia-Oceana Davis Cup Zone to be held down under in the "land of the sheep." The Davis Cup is the Olympics of tennis where even top tennis stars, like Rafael Nadal, play for their country.

Victory over the Kiwis will send our team to the next stage of the elimination while a loss will put it in a delicate knock-out stage with Chinese-Taipei. Another loss would relegate the team from the higher seeding of Group I to Group II.

In recent years, our players struggled but successful in placing our standing one notch higher to Group I, so this game is crucial. Our team will be bannered once again by Fil-Am Cecil Mamiit, who since 2005, was at the forefront of our tennis victories, not only in Davis Cup competitions but also in other international events like Asian and SEA Games.

During his prime years in the US, Mamiit was considered one of the rising young top stars of the US and holds the distinction of having once beaten tennis great Andrei Agassi in a US tournament. Our strength will somehow be dampened by the absence of veteran doubles specialist, Fil-Am Treat Huey who is competing in a US tournament, hoping to improve on his world rankings.

The rest of the team is composed of the most veteran Johnny Arcilla, journeyman Ruben Gonzales, and teenage sensation pride of Iligan City, Jeson Patrombon, the country's No.1 Juniors champion and currently ranked in the top 10 of the junior world rankings.

The Kiwis, on the other hand, have a revamped line-up, putting in more younger players in their team. If it's any consolation, the Philippines holds a 4-1 head to head advantage, the last two victories scored just in recent years.

Go go go Team Philippines!    

Post Wimbledon 2011: Djokovich on Top of the World

Forty-nine (49) won matches or so this year; one of the longest winning streak in tennis history. Broken only once during the French Open by another superstar legend Roger Federer in the semis.

It started in December, when Novak Djokovich, alongside my fading idol Ana Ivanovic gave Serbia a Christmas gift - the Fed Cup title. Then a 2nd Australian Open title and after that, more titles in minor but established ATP masters tournaments; Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid, and Rome.

The last two tourneys were significant; these were clay courts serving as tune up tourneys to Roland Garros. And his victim? Why, the king of clay himself, Rafa Nadal. Of course, where it mattered most, the French Open, Federer beat Djoko in the semis, for a final date with Nadal. and Nadal indeed redeemed himself and claimed his 6th (or was it 7th?) French Open title, equalling Bjorn Bjorg's wins. Then Nole, as he is sometimes called, snatched the No. 1 ranking from Nadal again after beating Frenchman Jo-Wilfred Tsonga in the semis. Win or lose in the finals, he'll still be No.1 but he punctuated his ascendancy to the tennis throne by indeed winning his first ever Wimbledon title, also a first for Serbia at the expense again of Nadal. It was a dream come true for he considers Wimbledon his most favorite tournament. No wonder, he ate a sample of Wimbledon grass in celebration. He has finally arrived, a long way from his childhood days when he, together with Ana Ivanovic again, were training just as the war in their country was going on.

After Federer, my bet has always been Djokovich. Just as Federer seems to lose his touch when playing against old rival Rafa Nadal, I have believed that it's only Djoko who has what it takes to beat Nadal, in any court, much more in Wimbledon. Not Murray whose shoulder carries a big weight of an aspiring British kingdom who haven't seen a  British champion  in 75 years. And to think that it was the Englishmen who started the game of tennis.Not even the presence of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton and well even the Royal sister, Pippa, could snap this British title drought.Stroke for stroke, power for power, agility and footwork, serve for serve, shot variety and all, Djokovich is indeed destined to become a champion.

And perhaps add to that, his sense of humor, when in lighter moments, he would mimic the on court antics of his fellow players, notably Sharapova, Nadal, and tennis legend now TV commentator, the explosive John McEnroe. His time has come. And the scene of his family, his parents and two brothers cheering in his box and the Serbian President leaping off his seat and punching in the air in the Royal Box is a sight that will be forever etched in memory.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

UAAP Sidelights: The Eligibility Case of Greg Slaughter and Bobby Ray Parks, Jr.

All's well that's ends well. The UAAP 74 Basketball Season unfolds this Sunday with experts saying that this is one of the toughest editions in years. This after the UAAP Board cleared and gave the go signal to play to Ateneo's prize recruit, 7' behemoth Greg Slaughter and NU's celebrated rookie, Bobby Ray Parks. Slaughter, who once led the University of Visayas (UV) Lancers to four (4) straight championships in the Cebu Collegiate Meet, and Parks, the talented son and namesake of many time PBA Best Import, Bobby Parks, were hounded by eligibility questions decided only this late by the UAAP Board. This now make NU a serious contender and a step closer for the Blue Eagles in their drive for a rare 4-peat championships. Expected to crowd them are last year's runner up, FEU Tamaraws, La Salle Geen Archers and Adamson Falcons. Of course, upsets from the UE Red Warriors now coached by PBA veteran Jerry Codinera and Pido Jarencio's UST Fighting Tigers can't be ruled out.

Slaughter's short stint with the Smart Gilas national team while in residency was the issue. UAAP rules states that a player in residency is barred from playing in any other league though it was reasoned out that there's an amended rule to the effect that this will not apply when the player suited up with the national team. For Parks, he needed one more year residency after studying 3 years high school in the US. But there is also a rule that when at least one parent worked as an OFW, this 2 year residency does not apply. Parks was born in Batangas, finished elementary in Manila and spent 3 years in high school in the US when his Filipina mother worked there as OFW. He came back last year for his 4th year. And in his personal appeal to let him play, he pleaded his case in fluent Filipino (Tagalog) in a presscon the other day.

I fully agree with my favorite sports columnist Quinito Henson of the Phil. Star when in his column yesterday he said that this eligibility issue could have been resolved by the board a long time ago. They knew full well that these two players are geared up to play for their respective schools months ago. Were the schools also remiss in this? After all, Aldrech Ramos who also once played for Smart Gilas was cleared early this year but it was because FEU officials then wrote the Board to decide on his case.

This issue somehow, in my view, put a dent in the spirit of fairness and fair play and may, as Henson added, "put unnecessary ill will among member schools."

Be that as it may, this gonna be another blockbuster Sunday. Roll out the drums. Blare the trumpets.Put on your school colors. Hail, the gang's all here. See you at Araneta!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My Azkals Experience

It has indeed been a long while since I've been to a live soccer game. In fact, I could not recall when was the last time I watched a live soccer match. Must be perhaps during those PRISAA Games in the 70's or during those summer tournaments in Barotac Nuevo (Iloilo) where top local teams bannered by national players (like the Air Force, Army, Navy, etc) played. So it was full of excitement that, with my family, we trooped to the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium for the 2nd leg of the Philippines vs Sri Lanka World Cup Qualifying Match.

The last time I set foot in this sporting landmark was during the 2005 Southeast Asian Games (SEA) where we watched the tennis competition. But this one was different, far different. Huge crowds, excited and nationalistic, many in Azkals shirts and waving tiny Philippine flags. The feeling was awe inspiring.

Kudos to the organizing committee for a well organized and successful staging of the games. The many "checkpoints" all the way from the stadium entrance to your seats (I wonder where they got those burly men in black who looked like the bodyguards of Hollywood celebrities) were smooth and in order. There's a slip though that I could not fail to mention: they should have warned the public in their press releases that umbrellas (and other stuff, like water, big bags, or DSLRs, etc) are not allowed. That afternoon was gloomy so we brought umbrellas only to be confiscated at the gates. So during the entire first half where it rained heavily, we were like wet chickens in the open field.

The first goal to me was the sweetest. And it was a fitting tribute that it was booted in by the only home grown native talent in the starting line up; Chieffy Caligdong, the proud son of Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo, long considered the football capital of the Philippines. Being "partly" Barotacnon myself and knowing personally the Caligdong family who were my aunt's neighbors then, the pride is personal. It likewise brings me more personal pride and joy that this successful football resurgence is happening under the leadership of two of my close friends; Nonong Araneta and Mike Batiles, the President and Executive Vice President of the the Philippine Football Federation (PFF).

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Azkals Next Stop: Kuwait

The victory celebrations are not yet over but the grim reality of the tougher road ahead for our new found heroes, the Azkals (You may join the conversation about Azkals here.) , looms prominently just a few weeks from now. I would say Mongolia and Sri Lanka were lightweights and our twin victories were sort of a given. Mongolia's main sports I think is weightlifting and some amateur boxing while Sri Lanka, cricket, the national game of the Commonwealth countries. But Kuwait is far far different. Like all Middle East Arab countries, soccer is their passion and they play and can now even sort of match with European teams. If memory  serves me right, Kuwait has once qualified for the main draw of the FIFA World Cup. And this is indeed something.

The Azkals should be more in their tip-top shape for this "home and away" game. But the suspension of skipper Aly Borromeo  and Fil-German Stephan Schrock owing to the two yellow cards they earned each in the two games will definitely be a big blow to our cause. I felt then that they should have restrained with those fouls last Sunday since the game was already in our hands. Borromeo is a stalwart in our backcourt defense while Schrock is a gem of a midfielder who orchestrated the Azkals offense in their 2 game match against Sri Lanka. In soccer, the midfielder is basketball's point guard and that's how important he is to the team. We just hope the reported replacement, Fil-Danish Jerry Lucena and Fil-Icelandic Ray Johnson will more than be able to fill in his shoes. But these two have not played yet with the team and we haveto see their prowess and most of all, their coordination with their teammates.

Come what may, the Azkals have already made history. Come July 28, we will again be trooping to Rizal Memorial Football Stadium, rain or shine and cheer to our hearts out for our team. For love of country and for love of football.  

Monday, July 4, 2011

Sporty Dad is Born

Sports, together with music and history, are my passion. Early on in my childhood, I was fascinated and got hooked to them, without any influence or prodding from anybody else. My fondness for sports however was perhaps nurtured by games during our town fiesta in summer.

I played a lot during my elementary and especially in high school days. Basketball, soccer, volleyball, softball, chess, table tennis and later in my adult life, lawn tennis and bowling. My favorite reading materials were sports magazines and sports news. It was also to my great delight when cable tv in the 80's started to broadcast games, NBA especially, and later all kind of sports, from golf, baseball, soccer, swimming, tennis, track and field, etc. I also once wrote a sports column in our company's newsletter, titled Sportswatch.

Such sports genes obviously are now passed on to my kids who not only watch games but actually analyze them. We watched live games in Araneta Superdome, Rizal Memorial, cinema houses during Pacquaio's fights, etc. We seldom miss the NBA games, and European soccer games share equal tv time. We would even stay late nights to watch Wimbledon and other tennis majors.

On its social dimension, I firmly believe that sports tie fraternal bonds among all races.

With this background, Sporty Dad was conceived. Welcome then to my world of sports.