Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Former Loyola Sparks players reminisce about landmark 2012 Singapore Cup

Former Loyola Sparks players reminisce about landmark 2012 Singapore Cup

By Rick Olivares


Last Thursday evening, July 2, former players from the Loyola Meralco Sparks reminisced about the landmark 2012 Singapore Cup in which they participated in.


According to former team president Randy Roxas, the Singapore Cup was the first time a Filipino club participated in any regional football tournament. 


The Sparks defeated Singapore squad Geylang United, 2-1, in the Round of 16, then outscored Myanmar side Kanbawza, 5-3 on aggregate in the quarterfinals, before bowing out in the semi-finals to eventual champion, Tampines Rovers, 5-0.


In attendance for the Zoom webcast were team captain Patrick Ozaeta, midfielders Jake Morallo and Anto Gonzales, defender Alex Elnar, goalkeeper Ref Cuaresma, and team manager Belay Fernando. Other players of note on that Sparks team include James and Phil Younghusband, Matt and Mark Hartmann, Simon Greatwich, PJ Fadrigalan, Jayson Cutamora, Roxy Dorlas, Davide Cortina, Park Min-Ho, Chad Gould, and Jang Jowon. The team was coached by Kim Chul-So, Vincent Santos, Gil Talavera, and Dang Cecilio. 


There was excitement across the team as they departed for the Singapore Cup upon the invitation of the S.League. “It was the first time for a lot of players,” shared Cuaresma of the tournament and the trip. “When we knew we were flying everyone got excited. We bought new boots.”


“It was a test of how our club would perform,” succinctly added Cuaresma. 


“Para siyang national team as we were representing the club and the Philippines,” added Ozaeta. “So we were raring to go and show what we can do in a tournament like this.”


It was also an opportunity for others on the bench to shine. Prior to the tournament, Morallo had not seen much playing time, but in this tournament, he scored a huge goal versus Kanbawza that helped the Sparks advance to the semi-finals.


For Alex Elnar, he shared a hilarious story that has been hitherto unknown to most. “My natural position is striker, but with Phil and James there, if I could get minutes, it would be about for minutes. So before the Singapore Cup, I told Master Kim, ‘I can play defense too.’ So when we got to Singapore, I was surprised to see myself in the starting eleven and at right back. I told Ref, ‘Don’t pass the ball to me. Just pass the ball to Roxy.’”


The club’s coach was the man they call, “Mr. Kim” who was in the process of making a name for himself as the FEU high school squad’s head coach and bagging UAAP titles. “He is very professional and has an old style of coaching where you stick to the basics and the small details. The timing that he implies to everyone is crucial. If you pass that ball a second too early you might not get that goal. You go early, you might not get that interception. But Master Kim was a professional. Even in the heat in the Philippines or in Singapore, he would always wear a suit.”


Added Gonzales who went up against the Korean in the UAAP, “Master Kim focuses on the non-negotiables such as the work ethic. Everyone has to defend. There were times minsan hindi nagstart si Mark because Master Kim felt he wasn’t defending enough. And I appreciated that. He rarely adjusts to the opponent. He wants it the other way around. But there are moments when we cannot impose our style of play you have to adjust. He is a very caring person. Once you’re his player you will forever care and be there for you.”


“I couldn’t feel there was a barrier (in terms of the Korean being able to express himself,” ventured Ozaeta. “Very natural yung instructions and how he explains the drills. Very logical steps to get the slightest advantage against the opponent. When you’re defending against the striker, you have to look at the man and the ball and when he is ready to pass or kick, you lean to one side and get ready to pounce. If you do that, you have about a second for that spring in your step in going for the ball.”


Speaking of Master Kim, the Sparks’ Korean contingent saw some talented players. “Park Min-Ho and Jang Je-Won” are very talented,” observed Ozaeta. “They can play any position and are very reliable. Very easy going. I am happy to have played with them.”


It was Min-Ho’s goal in the 95th minute (during extra time) against Geylang United that allowed Loyola to advance to the next round. That was a resounding win as it was the first ever by a Philippine club in international club competition.


During that game, LMSFC battled not only the extreme humidity but also the hard-artificial turf. Many a player were left cramping. Furthermore, Matt Hartmann was not allowed to play as he was in the midst of a suspension levied on him by the Philippine Football Federation. And Italian midfielder Davide Cortina was still not yet back from injury.


And in a thrilling two-leg quarterfinals series where Loyola defeated KBZ, the Sparks moved on to the semis where the Tampines Rovers of Aleksandar Duric and Noh Alam Shah awaited them. Loyola was bounced in a highly physical two-leg series, 5-0, with the wheels finally coming off in a 4-nil loss to Gombak United for third place.


The Sparks finished the 2012 Singapore Cup with a 2-3 record finishing fourth in a field of 16 and they brought home Singapore $10,000 (roughly P356,000). The Sparks packed the Jalan Besar Stadium drawing more fans than away and local clubs (Kanbawza had a sizeable audience too).


The impact of the Sparks’ involvement? By the next year, Global FC participated. And later other clubs like Kaya and Ceres began venturing outside taking up the cause for Philippine football and country.


As for the players, the takeaways go deeper.


“It’s like a family (the Sparks),” said Morallo. “How many years ako sa Meralco? Ang daming experiences and memorable games. Sa Singapore Cup, doon ko na-feel na kaya natin makipagsabayan.”


“The Sparks will never leave my heart as they helped boost my career,” offered Cuaresma. “The experience knowing we were the first team to play abroad and me being on top of my game at that time made it really fun. It was an honor for me. If I didn’t play for the Sparks in the semi-finals, my future wife would have not seen me.”


For her part, acting team manager Belay Fernando gave tribute to the true roots to the squad that was a merger between Loyola Agila and San Beda FC. She also underscored the closeness everyone developed over years of participating in the Singapore Cup.  “When I look at any of these guys, it’s not just good times, but am blessed a lot of these guys are really good friends to this day. There is a big hug when everyone sees each other to this day. And like it provided a good opportunity not only with Meralco but later with Ceres.”


Summed up Elnar, “Masaya ako kasi nag-start ako from Loyola Agila with Coach Ompong Merida and Carlo Rodriguez hanggang sa Loyola Meralco na palaki ng palaki yung family. At naging coach ko si Master Kim at nagtuloy tuloy ang career ko. Hanggang ngayon may nagtatanong, ‘Uy kumusta ang Meralco?’”


For me, the Singapore Cup gave me the realization na kaya natin makipagsabayan sa ibang teams sa region,” said Ozaeta.  I am proud to be a part of this team and to have played with these guys.”


“My main takeaway is the bond we established, closed Gonzales. “In Manila, we do not get to spend time together. In this time (collectively for almost a month in Singapore), we got to know each other better. We’ve establish life-long friendships. Magagandang memories from the management down to teammates everything was in place. Like Jake said, it felt like a big family. When I moved to Meralco, I felt the warm welcome.”




Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Klopp’s Liverpool blueprint can be traced to his first press conference

Klopp’s Liverpool blueprint can be traced to his first press conference

By Rick Olivares


Is Jurgen Klopp a prophet?


The blueprint for Klopp’s success with Liverpool Football Club can be traced to his very first press conference for the Mersey-side club on the 9th of October 2015.


The 53-year-old German completed the arduous task of bringing home the storied football team’s first premier League title and 19th domestic league championship; a wait that took 30 years. And this is in addition to the other three pieces of silverware he has won – the 2019 UEFA Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup, the FIFA Club World Cup, and now the Premier League.


And here are some quotes that foreshadowed all his efforts for Liverpool dating back from that first presser.


“The most important is development. And it is a good moment for a re-start. It is only important we only play our own game.”


That refers to the pace-changing tactical innovations brought by Klopp to Liverpool.

Among the tactical innovations Klopp brought into Liverpool was the development of previous underwhelming players into world-class players.


Mohammad Salah scored 15 goals for AS Roma but 32 in his first year with Liverpool.

Sadio Mane managed 11 with Southampton and doubled it to 22 in his first year in Anfield.  

In his first two years, we saw some of the game Klopp introduced to Dortmund with its gegenpressing. But they still coughed up a lot of goals and were vulnerable to set pieces.


Playing a 4-3-3 with high-pressing and attacking wing backs.


In Dortmund, Klopp used a 4-2-3-1 formation on offense and during his first year at Liverpool.


On defense, he played 4-1-4-1.


He had players playing from box-to-box like Gini Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson, and James Milner.


He utilized Roberto Firmino in a way where he could play alongside Mane and Salah on top or drop deep where his 1v1 skills allowed his to beat the press and slip balls through for Mane or Salah.


He found the right chemistry as Dejan Lovren played well alongside Virgil Van Dijk with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson playing exceptional roles as attacking wingbacks. Their ability to bring up the ball and feed teammates with their destructive crosses gave Liverpool a frightening attack.


Klopp infused a lot of speed, flexibility into his players that allowed them to start the attack or even finish it off or defend higher and use their speed to track back.


He unveiled his ideas as manager at Mainz. Improved it while at Borussia Dortmund then perfected it in Liverpool.


He recruited players and brought up academy players who complemented the first team.

The sale of Philippe Coutinho brought in goalkeeper Allison Becker from AS Roma and Virgil Van Dijk from Southampton. Their addition transformed the team and they now had dependable players in both goal and central defense. They picked up Robertson from a relegated Hull squad and brought up Alexander-Arnold from the Academy. 


Klopp made full use of his academy players as he brought up Curtis Jones, Neco Williams, and Rhian Brewster who have impressed as well. 


“If somebody wants to help LFC they have to change from doubter to believer.”

There was the match against West Brom in 2018 where Liverpool equalized very late in the game for a 2-2 draw. After the match, he brought the team over to the Kop and saluted the fans. It was a gesture that many did not understand and the German was roundly criticized for that. Said Klopp after, “In football, people always say it – that supporters are important – but then you don’t treat them like that so you have to make sure it’s really a healthy relationship. We know without them we wouldn’t play on our highest level, no chance. You have to appreciate that and it’s very easy for me, but it’s still very different routines in England and in Germany.”


“There was a big misunderstanding against West Brom. I wanted to say thank you to the supporters after that game so I took my team towards the Kop to do it and there was a discussion everywhere about it. For me, it was ‘why should we even discuss that? But I had to learn that English people are not used to that kind of thing.”


And after the loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League, he joined some Liverpool fans in singing about doing it and winning it again. At this time, people were wondering if Klopp was indeed the Man who could get them over the hump. He was now 0-3 in title competitions for Liverpool.


Well, Liverpool did win the Champions League the next season. And after falling short by one point to Manchester City in the 2018-19 Premier League season, they won it now to go with the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup 


Said Klopp in 2015, “Twenty-five years ago is a long time and the people try to get better and improve and take the next title.  Let’s try to start a new way. This is the perfect moment to do this because now everything is new. Try to start very emotional football. This is important for Anfield. We have to do together. We have to feel together.” 


“I need the other people to get perfect information.”

Jurgen mentioned this in his introductory presser. Aside from the usual coaches, Klopp has brought in specialists who have made a huge impact in Liverpool’s fortunes.


Klopp has hailed Liverpool’s head of nutrition Mona Nemmer as his only world-class signing in July of 2016. And true enough, the improved food and diet has helped the players from the club burst out of the gates and perform the demands that Klopp’s game requires. 


Nemmer began her work with Germany’s Under-21 squads before she was brought into Bayern Munich. After Pep Guardiola left Bayern for Man City, Liverpool poached her away.


However, it isn’t only Nemmer who has made an impact off the field. There is strength and conditioning coach Andreas Kornmayer who has really whipped the team into superb shape as well. 


And there is Ian Graham who crunches data for Liverpool’s coaches to chew on. And they even have a throw-in coach Thomas Gronnemark. And quite remarkably, Liverpool has gone from the Premier League’s third-worst throw-in-retain-possession rate to the best. 


“If I sit here in four years, we won title in this time. if not, the next one, maybe Switzerland.”

This one elicited a laugh from the assembly of reporters during that first press conference. Klopp won the Champions League in his fourth year then added the UEFA Super Cup, the FIFA Club World Cup, and the much-coveted Premier League title in his fifth year. The man is now a legend.


And that brings us to his last quote.


“When I left Dortmund, my last sentence maybe were, ‘It is not so important what people think when you come in. It is much more important what people think when you leave.’”


The man is a hero and while he dismissed the idea of a statue outside Anfield Stadium, for sure, one will be erected. Furthermore, you bet every club with the money to burn will try and poach him after 2022 when his contract with Liverpool expires. 


Friday, June 26, 2020

Reflecting on Liverpool's Premier League title after 30 years

I am in tears as I write this.


It’s 30 years of hope in my heart that has been fulfilled and I am sure for the other millions out there. It’s 30 years I had to take stick from fans of other clubs about never winning it again and only re-living past glory. 


Even after all this time, I cannot get my head wrapped around the fact the Liverpool are finally English champions once more. Exactly 30 years after their last. We’ve had so many false starts and good runs only to come grinding to a halt and extending the agonizing wait.


I woke up, saw the news, and tears began to stream my face. Someone asked, “Why are you crying?”


I guess some people will never understand.


I am crying for joy. For that Jurgen Klopp came over to Liverpool and revitalized the club. I am crying for the players who nearly won it the previous year and had to go out and not only do it again, but in smashing style and panache that has set them apart from their competition. They did so too in the Champions League.


I am crying for the players who didn’t win it. I began watching the club in 1979 but can only say that I followed them in earnest when Robbie Fowler suited up. I am crying for Steven Gerrard who came so close but slipped up. I am crying for Gerard Houliier, Rafa Benitez, and Brendan Rogers who gave us so many great moments and won some silverware, but not the Premier League. I think of Luis Suarez who wept when the title slipped away. I think of my friend in Liverpool, Jeff Goulding, a lifelong fan who has written books about his favorite club (and yes, I have them). 


I am crying because even if I am thousands of miles away, I did what I could for the club – organizing the sympathy run for the 96 who lost their lives in the Hillsborough Disaster with a run in the UP oval, helping make the new kits available to Filipino fans, traveling to England to watch the team and interview the coaches and the players. It is an honor to write for This Is Anfield; in fact, am the only non-English writer in a staff of Liverpudians.


I am crying because… this is probably the best feeling in the world… of being champions.


My first year with my new company meant I could have availed of leaves come the first week of May. I planned on booking a flight to Liverpool in the last week or so of the season; just around the time there would be that parade around the city that I have visited on several occasions and have to come to love. The pandemic ended any hope of being a part of an historic parade and celebration.


At least there is still the championship to enjoy and savor for a lifetime.


Let me wipe now these tears of joy and smile that toothy grin just like St. Jurgen.




We are Liverpool. This means more.



Sunday, May 17, 2020

My NINE favorite kicks!

Lemme start something different. Show your NINE favorite kicks. Kicks that you bought and wore and aren't on some wish list. Stuff you actually had.
These are my NINE absolute favorites that I had.
Asics Gel Lyte III that I bought in Kuwait with Azkals player Yannick Tuason, the walang kamatayang Adidas Pro Model, Uptempo Pippen that I bought at Footlocker, Nike Air Presto black and white, Kobe Bryant Huarache at a Nike Store in TST, Kowloon, Air Jordan I blue that we got in Hong Kong, Reebok Ex-O-Fit that I also got in Hong Kong, K-Swiss Classic, Air Jordan XI that I bought here in Manila 
The Pippen Uptempo is a super fave of mine and I must have bought it three times through the years. K-Swiss, of course. I must have owned four pairs. I remember when Kevin Anderson was wearing KSwiss kicks in the film Sleeping With the Enemy (starring Julia Roberts) that was so awesome. The original blue and black Huarache was a favorite but the Kobe version was awesome.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Dissecting the 1990s Chicago Bulls Part 1

Dissecting the 1990s Chicago Bulls
By Rick Olivares

By April 20, The Last Dance, the 10-episode documentary of the Chicago Bulls’ 1997-98 season will be on Netflix for all to watch.

During this lockdown, I took the time to watch all seven documentaries of the Chicago Bulls (the six championships and the 1988 video, Higher Ground) and all 35 games they played in the NBA Finals of the 1990s. That took me a little over three days to finish. After that, my brain was mush. 

It did, however, refresh my memory, validate some notions, and dispelled others.

Let me share a few of them.

Who needs rivals when the NBA was littered with stars and legends?
It was said that the Bulls had no true rival in the way the 1980s Boston Celtics were defined by their Los Angeles Lakers counterparts and vice versa. I beg to disagree. The Eastern Conference was the best in the NBA at that time. It wasn’t until the new millennium that we saw the balance of power shift to the West.

From 1947-1998, the East won 32 times while the West took home the Larry O’Brien trophy 21 times.

Since the new millennium, its reversed. The West has won 13 while the East bagged the trophy seven times.

The Bulls’ nemesis included the Cleveland Cavaliers (helped by Magic Johnson anointing them as the “team of the future” in the 1990s), the Detroit Pistons, the New York Knicks, and the Miami Heat. 

When the Lakers won five NBA titles in the 80s, they defeated Boston twice, Philadelphia twice, and Detroit once.

The Bulls went through some very good teams beating the Lakers in 1991, the Portland Trailblazers in 1992, and the Phoenix Suns in 1993. The took two years off before taking down the Seattle Supersonics in 1996 and the Utah Jazz twice from 1997-98. Five opponents. They defeated all challengers that had Hall of Famers and Dream Team members.

The Lakers had Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Vlade Divac. Portland had Clyde Drexler while the Suns had Charles Barkley. Seattle had Gary Payton while the Utah Jazz had the duo of John Stockton and Karl Malone.

Of the coaches they faced in the Finals, Utah’s Jerry Sloan made it to the Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach (not as a player for the Bulls). If you want to include the play-offs during Chicago’s 90s dominance, you can add Detroit’s Chuck Daly, Cleveland’s Lenny Wilkens, New York’s and Miami’s Pat Riley as Hall of Fame coaches.

The Bulls got huge contributions from draft day picks and trades.
In the 1980s, the acquisition of the Boston Celtics of former Los Angeles Clipper and Portland great Bill Walton propelled them to the 1986 title. The next year, the Lakers countered by grabbing Portland star Mychal Thompson who was an integral part of back to back titles from 1987-88. When Detroit won it in 1988-89, they tabbed the Dallas Mavericks’ Mark Aguirre. 

The Bulls built the first three-peat team with draft picks and draft day trades.

Their draft picks included Michael Jordan, Horace Grant, BJ Armstrong, Stacey King, Will Perdue, and Scott Williams. Scottie Pippen arrived on a draft day trade. 

The second three-peat wave saw draft picks Toni Kukoc, Jason Caffey, Dickie Simpkins, and Jack Haley join Jordan and Pippen as players acquired through the draft. Of course, the second wave saw key free agents like Dennis Rodman, Luc Longley, Ron Harper, Steve Kerr, Randy Brown, and Jud Buechler come in.

In contrast, the Lakers’ draftees included Johnson, Worthy, Norm Nixon, Michael Cooper, and AC Green. Byron Scott arrived on a draft day trade. Nixon was there for the first two titles before he was traded. 

Boston’s draftees included Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Cedric Maxwell, Danny Ainge, Greg Kite, and Sam Vincent.

The 2017-18 NBA champions Golden State Warriors had only two players come up via the draft in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.

This is of course not to put down trades or free agent acquisitions that are vital to any ball club’s success. But knowing whom to select through the draft pays off without initially having to pay big bucks. The Warriors’ trio of Curry, Thompson, and Green have been huge selections for G-State that has seen them massively successful in recent years.

Rodman should have been the 1996 NBA Finals MVP.
I thought Dennis Rodman should have been the 1996 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player.
Preposterous? Not really. The Finals MVP has no particular criteria. It depends on the votes of 11 designated members of the NBA media.

We all know Jordan was awarded the trophy. In my opinion, Rodman should have at the very least been given co-MVP awardee. The least, okay? He could have been named so.

Here’s why.


Of the Bulls’ four wins, here is how we break it down.

Game 1
Game 2
Game 3
Game 6
28 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block

36 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals


10 points & 20 rebounds

9 points, 19 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 1 block

Rodman won two games for the Bulls and his contributions were significant especially during crunch time. The Supersonics themselves from head coach George Karl to Hersey Hawkins and David Wingate pointed out to media that Rodman was the MVP of the series. 

So that is why at the very least, Rodman should have been co-MVP.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Reflections during this Lockdown

Reflections during this Lockdown
By Rick Olivares

When this lockdown, this pandemic is all done, I know it will change the way we live. It will change our world forever. Now, hopefully, for the better.

We have seen how much of the world is not prepared to handle a pandemic like this. Even China, Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore, and Japan, that have been previously hit by certain viruses have still been knocked for a loop. 

Does this change the way we look at healthcare and public health? Does this teach the Filipino patience as well as the unknown art of queueing? Does this make us take a long hard look at how we earn and save money and what we buy in the future? Does this change our rules about travel? When I was a youngster, I recall that you have to take certain shots before you went abroad. Furthermore, will the manner of how our food is handled and eaten (especially in China) change? 

The last time I felt like our world has been rocked and tilted off its axis was 9-11 and I was living in New York back then. To date, the horrific terrorist attack on the United States has had an effect on our world from how we take to air travel, how we view Muslims, how we handle our security, and how geopolitics is played to name a few.

To be honest… this pandemic – we are sailing into unchartered waters. Some say the Philippine economy was doing well; others, not. Some say that how we are dealing with pandemic is bad; others say it is better than other countries. Whatever the answer to both, I think it is immaterial. We are in the middle of the great unknown and sailing into a sea of uncertainty with guarded optimism while expecting the worst.

In the last several years, I would joke at home about stocking up in the event of a zombie apocalypse. No doubt, the result of an imagination gone wild after watching one too many episodes of The Walking Dead and films such as 28 Days Later and Z Nation.

My late grandfather – whenever someone would open, say, a can of corn beef -- would go out and buy two. He never allowed their stocks of food and canned goods to be depleted. Saving for a rainy and difficult day, he once told me. I thought it was hilarious and a tad ridiculous. And yet, decades later, I find myself during this time of lockdown – not to mention this bizarre fear of a zombie apocalypse – constantly replacing our stock.

I figure the lockdown will be extended for another two weeks. I think our economy can still take that hit, but for how long? If it extends even further, there will be bigger damage. I can only surmise what the effect on employment will be. I myself am scared I could lose my job. What more the graduates of a shortened school year? What can they look forward to with an economy that has taken a battering? 

We have seen a capacity to help on a large scale. And I think it is good. But is there a scarcity of food? Feeding the poor is one thing, but are there enough people going to work to produce food and even raise and grow them? The balance has been upset after all. I have seen reports about importing rice as a back-up. It is well and good, but that sends signs that we are reaching a certain threshold of tolerance. 

It’s funny how I ruminate while lying down in bed – with a hearty laugh I must add – that the biggest winners of the lockdown are not only the front liners who will be replaced by many a younger generation who will see the profession as something more than noble – but also Netflix, YouTube, Zoom, cable television, Facebook and social media. Humor during a dark time. It is a coping mechanism.

In reality, this sends a signal to the human race. Not since World War II has the entire world been affected by an event of this magnitude. Yes, the Cold War reshaped the map of the world as it was divided by the superpowers. But in this pandemic, the nuclear weapons and military strength hasn’t protected the populace. 

There is this famous quote by Mohandas K. Ghandi that I have kept close to my heart since I first came upon it as a youngster, “There is sufficiency in the world for man’s need; not man’s greed.”

And it’s so true at this point in time. Even in the midst of this pandemic, some folks still have nefarious intentions. 

There is one thing I have learned is to always look at things from another perspective. And while we see positives amidst the chaos and inefficiency, one can still see the goodness in man. Now, let’s hope that the learnings stay with us and continue. Or else, we will be doomed to repeat them because you know these pandemics come in cycles. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

4 sports shows to watch in this time of lockdown

4 sports shows to watch in this time of lockdown
By Rick Olivares

With Covid-19 putting sporting events around the world to stop, the action – at least online – hasn’t stopped heating up.

Here are four worthwhile and hilarious sports shows, documentaries, or even videos to watch in this time of covid-19.

The 2018 FIFA World Cup Film (YouTube)
This was previously only available on Amazon Prime, but on March 21, FIFA uploaded this onto YouTube. This 80-minute film – expertly narrated by British actor Damian Lewis – takes you back to the FIFA World Cup in Russia from two years back.

What I have loved about the FIFA World Cup films since I began watching them over a decade ago is they use footage from their own cameras and not the television cameras on hand. So what you get a more intimate, close up, and behind-the-scenes shots using high definition cameras. You miss out on the expansive shots of the goals such as France’s Benjamin Pavard’s wicked rifle of a shot that was one of the tournament’s best.  But having said that, there are other venues to watch those.

The FIFA films are minimalist in its script writing. Lewis keeps an even keep and very coolly describes the action. And for the most part, he allows the footage to say it all. The footage is a joy to watch.

Lewis, who came to international fame for his role in the HBO series Band of Brothers has been in demand for documentary narration. You might want to view his documentaries such as Hang Tough, that tells of the monument to Dick Winters, who the former portrayed in Band of Brothers, as a statue of his is unveiled in Normandy, France, and Keep On Running: 50 Years of Island Records. 

F1 Drive to Survive Season 2 (Netflix)
As a fan of Formula 1 racing, this series (including Season One) is a Godsend. It brings to life the competition as it tells all the intoxicating subplots of the various drivers, managers, and teams and their owners of an entire racing season in 10 episodes (for each season). I’ve watched F1 from the stands in Singapore and that’s from a distance. This brings you up close and you understand a lot more. 

Season 2 finds Mercedes and Ferrari finally allowing the Netflix cameras inside their headquarters, paddocks, and more (they must have seen the effect on the other teams in Season One). To finally have the world’s best driver in Lewis Hamilton and Sebastien Vettel in the spotlight is a huge treat for race fans. 

Even behind the scenes, nothing slows down in F1 Drive to Survive.

The English Game (Netflix)
This six-part series tells the story of Scottish footballer Fergus Suter who moves to England. Created by Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes, he mixes reality with plots perhaps created to push the story forward and make it more interesting. While I am not particularly crazy about these, I understand. Otherwise, it would have been a little boring because not everyone’s life is eventful. 

So take it like you did with Escape to Victory (that 1980s football film starring Sylvester Stallone, Max Von Sydow, Michael Caine, and Pele as well as professional footballers Bobby Moore, Osvaldo Ardilles, Mike Summerbee, Werner Roth, and others. It’s set in a real time, but kind of fictional.  

Icarus (Netflix)
One of the most powerful sports films ever. This film helped bring about the suspension of Russian athletes for their doping program. How Russia was able to participate in the last Olympics – short-handed though – I have no idea. It is sad to see the world’s sports authorities bow down to Russia (and they even haven’t touched China yet). 

But cyclist and filmmaker Bryan Fogel starts out what seems to be cycling’s version of Super-Size me when he becomes friends with Russian Grigory Rodchenkov who is the director of Moscow’s anti-doping center. Rodchenkov teaches him all the tricks of doping which is a surprise. But even more telling is that he goes on record to say that many Russian athletes cheat. After the World Anti-Doping Association comes out with a report on state-sponsored cheating, Rodchenkov departs for the USA where all of a sudden, his simple project with Fogel becomes a gold mine investigative reporting. 

You simply cannot make up these things. It’s riveting. 

Monday, March 9, 2020

Looking at Ateneo’s PCCL triumph over San Beda

Looking at Ateneo’s PCCL triumph over San Beda
By Rick Olivares

Tested, defended for the first 32 minutes, the Ateneo Blue Eagles stamped its class over former NCAA rival San Beda for a 57-46 win for the 2020 Philippine Collegiate Champions League at the Filoil Centre in San Juan.

The Red Lions held Ateneo to five points in the third period as the NCAA runners-up overhauled their own nine-point deficit at the half for a 41-39 lead going into the final canto.

Right before the seven-minute mark, the starters – Angelo Kouame, William Navarro, and SJ Belangel returned to turn the tables on the Red Lions as they launched an 18-5 finishing kick to win back-to-back PCCL titles; their fifth overall. Furthermore, Ateneo won their 11th trophy in 11 consecutive domestic tournaments they have participated in since 2017. This 2019-20 season, they are 21-0 including their 16-game sweep of UAAP Season 82.

Quipped Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin, “I hope we can go 12-12.”

What can we say about this win?

Tis might sound like a boast, but the Blue Eagles once more won it with a depleted crew.
In last year’s PCCL UAAP-NCAA Showdown, they defeated San Beda literally short-handed in three-matches. During their round robin for the second match, they only had six players. By half-time, they had eight. Ditto for Game Three. In the finals, they crushed the University of Visayas’ Green Lancers, 95-71, that was Rey Suerte’s last before transferring to the University of the East.

This year, they once more pummeled UV – in the semi-finals, 95-63, by an even bigger margin!

This year, starting forward Dwight Ramos was not available with his right arm in a sling as were Pat and Edward Maagdenberg.BJ Andrade is out with a season-ending knee injury. So, Jason Credo slipped into the starting unit. Although he didn’t score, he grabbed five rebounds, had two steals, and an assist. But perhaps more tellingly, he stopped Red Lions star swingman James Kwekuteye wo shot a miserable 1-12 from the field and finished with four points.

Troy Mallillin is about to be unleashed. His freakish athleticism and confident demeanor have seen him play a bigger role on the team. He can score, play defense, and work that basket. At one point, with a highly unconventional unit on the floor, he was the man who could score. But I like that he is willing to subvert himself to the system which is why it led to a passing error instead of taking the shot. But he knows better and he is playing better. Watch out!

Aside from Troy playing well in the crunch, others also stood up and showed their championship pedigree. 

San Beda played great defense in the third quarter as they limited Ateneo to five points. The Blue Eagles returned the favor and held the Red Lions to five points in the final quarter as SJ Belangel came alive scoring all 10 of his points including that conventional three-point play and that dagger of a triple that broke San Beda’s backs.

Some say that this is now Belangel’s team. Maybe. He will definitely hit a lot of big shots. But they have some studs who will get that ball in the crunch. Dwight Ramos is possible one. As is Kouame. And the way Mallillin is playing, he will be huge for Ateneo’s campaign come Season 83 of the UAAP.

William Navarro shut down San Beda’s PBA-ready player, Calvin Oftana and scored on a huge drive.

Angelo Kouame, hounded by a triple-team almost all game long scored huge buckets off tip ins. And at one point, even pilfered the ball from San Beda’s Prince Etrata and drove in for a dunk. Like when he did exactly the same to the University of Visayas’ court general George Cometa in the semi-finals. When you have a seven-footer taking away from a player much smaller than him then you know you are in trouble.

In the crunch, Ateneo closed down SBU’s Ralph Penuela, Oftana, Kwekutye, Peter Alfaro, and Kemark Cariño who played well in this game. 

This was a most impressive win against its fabled foe. It is Ateneo’s fifth PCCL crown, they are 11-for-11 in their last tournaments (the PCCL has a unique format with the UAAP-NCAA Showdown with the winner receiving a trophy that also advances them to the national finals where another trophy is at stake), and have a 21-match win streak dating back to this UAAP season and 24 over-all counting last year’s PCCL.  

Opinion: San Beda remains formidable

Opinion: San Beda remains formidable 
By Rick Olivares

Any talk that the San Beda Red Lions will no longer be a power in NCAA basketball are premature if not downright silly.

No Donald Tankoua. No Clint Doliguez. No AC Soberano. No Evan Nelle. They still crushed NCAA champions Letran (who were missing their own set of players but that isn’t the point here), 76-53 during the UAAP-NCAA Showdown. Then they took down a strong UST team with reigning UAAP Most Valuable Player Soulemane Chabi Yo, 77-68.

In the semi-finals, of the PCCL, they averted a disaster when they escaped a late University of the Philippines surge, 65-63, to enter the finals where they unfortunately, lost to Ateneo, 57-46.

Following their PCCL loss to Ateneo, the Red Lions players were so downcast. Almost as tough as when they lost to Letran in the last NCAA finals. Other teams might treat this as, “Ah, this is just the PCCL.” Not San Beda. Whether you admire that attitude or not, this will definitely serve as fuel, as motivation when the next season starts.

As it is, they will have some very good players in key positions. Calvin Oftana. For old-time Red Lions fans and followers, he plays like former star Elmer Reyes – that long rainbow of a shot, the ability to get the rim with the ball in the palm of his hands and he gently lays it in. Except, Oftana is taller, leaner, and more athletic. The man has PBA written all over him.

James Kwekuteye can play the one, two, and three spots. But he is more effective at the two. If he formed that exciting one-two punch with Nelle in the previous year, this time, it will be Oftana and himself. 

Ralph Penuela has returned after a year’s absence and the Red Lions felt his loss in last year’s campaign. He will be filling that spot vacated by Nelle. The problem is they did not anticipate Nelle bolting for La Salle. Now they have a depth problem at the one-spot where Prince Etrata is too small and at times overmatched. That doesn’t mean though that he cannot play it. He will need to improve with his speed and shooting.

Peter Alfaro is showing signs of why he was moved up from the Red Cubs’ ranks. In high school, he would spot up and shoot. Now, he is taking his game inside and is surprisingly a good rebounder.

They have JB Bahio is who underrated at the three and four and Franz Abuda who though known as a defensive stopper, can rebound, and even hit timely threes.

Kemark Cariño will play that center slot with help from Damie Cuntapay and Alex Visser.

They will have some help when Justine Sanchez, Yukien Adrada, and Rhayyan Amsali move up to the seniors ranks. 

While it isn’t as fearsome a five as San Beda has deployed for over a decade, these Red Lions will have to dig deep if they want to keep their spot as an elite team in the NCAA. They will win as a team with others playing key roles whether they fill in for a few minutes or two. They will win it by playing heads up defense.

Too often, the Red Lions do not get props for their work on the defensive end as they bristle with a lot of firepower. They are a very sound defensive team. As such, they remain the hunted. Every team will gun for them in what they think is an even playing field. Well, that remains to be seen.

But one thing they have going for them is many of their top NCAA foes have depleted line-ups – College of St. Benilde, San Sebastian, Lyceum of the Philippines, and Letran.

Furthermore, there is that championship pride. That hard-won experience of having played in countless finals gives them an edge; it might not be much, but it is an edge.

Their coaching staff knows they are in for a fight so they will need to address their line-up by the summer heading into the new NCAA season. Speaking of their coaching staff… that is a plus. The crew behind the team has been in place for a while. One might think that there is a sense of complacency. I assure you there is none. They have some top backroom people who know what they do and how to get the job done. There is nothing like knowing that a team is well-coached, well-prepared, and supported. That consistency in my book, makes for a huge advantage. 

Make no mistake though… the San Beda Red Lions… will be in the thick of the fight.