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.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Friday Extra Points

The New York Yankees took a crucial three-game series from the Boston Red Sox and now the Tampa Bay Devil Rays are up.

Boston is 80-54. NYY 75-59. Joba Chamberlain was suspended for two games for pitching headhunters twice to Kevin Youklis. Yo, Joba what was up with that? Probably the most colorful regular season in the Big Apple since 2001. Earlier in the season I called for a managerial change, but you have to hand it to Joe Torre. He is every bit as much the reason for the turnaround as much as A-Rod, Wang (the ace of the club the last three years), and Pettitte. Hope they can catch the Red Sox for the division title. Muy amigo, Paul Ruzik might be upset at that though. Hahaha.

James Blake barely made it to the next round. Whew!

David Beckham injured his knee and is probably out for the season. The LA Galaxy lost the Superliga Cup to Pachuca (it's their what -- fourth title this year?) on PKs 4-3. That means he's done too for England for the rest of the Euro 2008 qualifiers.

If the video of Kirk's shot looked bitin, sorry coz I stood up to celebrate. Hard to write, take down notes, shoot the game, and cheer at the same time. Will get more interviews for the next few games.

Working on a long Pilipinas baseball story and will begin working on a story on Philippine football soon. Meeting up with the clubs teams and a few national players next week.

Go Blue!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Hero - UAAP Game 10 Ateneo 72 vs UST 71

Hero - UAAP Game 10 Ateneo 72 vs UST 71
Round Two UAAP Season 70

by Rick Olivares

August 30, 2007
Araneta Coliseum

Articles of faith
If an Ateneo-La Salle game splits the business world and the national government right down the middle, an Ateneo-UST game cuts across religious orders and a fervor that spans centuries. So you can say that it boils down to faith.

“We still believe,” said a UST streamer that co-opted the slogan that Ateneo has used since 2001.

On the blue side of the coliseum, it was “Lord save this game. Long win this game,” written on a sign held up by rookie Kirk Long’s family, friends, and former schoolmates from Faith… the academy.

Of course God plays no favorites so it’s up to us mortals to decide our fate. Freewill, you know.

Another miraculous finish
Doug Kramer has had perfect attendance in all Blue Eagle games since 2002. That’s five years as a player and 10/14ths of Season 70 as a spectator. “Haven’t missed a game,” said the newest member of pro team Air21. “And I don’t intend to. Honestly, you never know how much you miss something until it’s gone. Playing for Ateneo is something you’ll forever treasure.”

The game had an element of deja vu to it. Sitting in the stands after completing their tours of duty were JC Intal, Macky Escalona, and Kramer for the Ateneo side and Jojo Duncil and Allan Evangelista for UST. All five were major players in last year’s titanic and memorable championship series.

It was Evangelista who canned what seemed to be the final shot of the game with a nasty fade over Kramer for 72-71 Tigers lead. It was Kramer who returned the favor when he sank that point blank stab for one of the greatest finishes we will ever see in our lifetime.

Almost a year later today, with time ticking away, the Espana squad’s version of a microwave, Khasim Mirza, drove the lane and angled himself for a twisting lay-up over the outstretched hands of Nonoy Baclao. 71-70. One for UST. One last time-out for the blue and white.

If you were paying attention during the lull of this down-the-wire thriller, there was an uneasy quiet. Maybe because both sides have seen this before. While the UST crowd which had packed nearly three-fourths of the coliseum silently asked if lightning could strike twice, the Ateneo side prayed for a little history repeating itself and redemption.

Unlike last year where Blue Eagle coach Norman Black had only one second left to execute a Houdini, this time they had 19.3. For those playing defense, that’s an eternity of basketball. For those taking the last shot, those seconds are quicksilver and are heart-stopping.

With Chris Tiu (9 points and 2 rebounds) and Jai Reyes (2 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists) tightly guarded, the ball went down to Ford Arao (20 points, 8 caroms, 4 assists, and 1 block) to see if he could back down Tiger Mark Canlas for a close range shot. The predictable double team arrived immediately and looked to discombobulate Arao. With the play a second away from being botched, Arao who earlier fed Nonoy Baclao (11 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 monster block) for an excellent dime drop, passed off to Long who had drifted off to the right side of the arc. A pump fake on the three-point line ditched guard Jun Cortez but Jervy Cruz rotated over for a possible game-saving block. As the game clock was about to expire, Long faded and as he remembered later, he put a little more spin into his shot in case it was short. The ball hung for like an eternity in its parabolic arc before gravity took over. The ball found the bottom of the net. 72-71. One for the blue and white.

The words of prophets
While the opening game of Thursday’s double-header (another walloping of the hapless UP Maroons by the vengeful FEU Tamaraws) halfway done, Growling Tigers June Dizon and Mirza were loosening up outside their locker room. “Kahit naka-ilang panalo na kami sa Ateneo, hindi mo pwede silang i-take for granted,” said Dizon. “Malaki respeto namin sa team na yan. Pag-Ateneo kalaban mo, itapon mo na lahat ng statistics. Very aggressive sila kahit mga rookies nila. Kaya sabi ni coach, must-win ‘to. Three days namin pinag-praktisan ang Ateneo. Sigurado hindi ‘to tulad ng unang laban. Dikitan ‘to.”

No longer the underdog, UST owned a three-game winning streak against Ateneo including a 87-74 thrashing last August 4. “Ibaon niyo,” was Tigers’ coach Pido Jarencio’s terse game plan.

In that infamous first round encounter where spotty officiating put the Ateneo big men on the bench with foul trouble, the Tigers rode the hot shooting of Mirza to break a close game wide open.

And the second round encounter seemed to follow the same script. Except that the defending champs led for the first three quarters and Mirza was getting a lot of help from Jervy Cruz (22 points and 18 rebounds) and Anthony Espiritu (10 points and 4 rebounds).

For a moment there, in the game’s early goings, it seemed too that UST was all set to end the match before the second quarter even started. With 2:04 left and the Tigers up 13-6 in the first canto, Ateneo coach Norman Black sued for time and did something he never does unless the game is out of reach – he called for a platoon substitution. With errors piling up and field goal percentage plummeting, he sent in a faster line-up of Kirk Long, Eric Salamat, Eman Monfort, Rabah Al-Husseini, and Nonoy Baclao to stem the tide.

And they did.

But whenever they would chip at the lead, Jarencio’s boys would douse the fire with a run of their own. After a Jobe Nkemakolam free throw brought the lead down to seven (from a high of 10), Baclao emphatically rejected an Espiritu drive the next trip down the floor. Except the loose ball found its way back to UST hands. Tigers back up guard Jun Cortez swung the ball back to Espiritu who was waiting in the left corner. Bang. A deadeye trey and the lead was up to 10 once more.

“Ahhhh,” exclaimed Ateneo Sports Shooter Aly Yap. “They’re even getting the loose balls and all the luck.”

The third quarter finished with the score 57-50 for UST and two former Blue Eagles – one with championship pedigree – looked up to the scoreboard and smiled. Brothers Paul and Nonoy Chuatico who both donned the blue and white back in the 80’s, were hopeful. “You know we’re not playing well, but we’re down by only seven,” ventured Nonoy who captained and played on Ateneo’s first UAAP champion team in 1987. “If the defense holds up and if they keep the game close, we’re going to win this.”

And the Blue Eagles opened the fourth with a 13-4 salvo that propelled them to their second taste of the lead (the first was at 2-0) 63-61 behind Arao, Baclao, and Long.

It was Long who gave the lead back to the Blue Eagles with a drive down the middle of the lane part of his nine-point explosion in the fourth. His coolness under fire and willingness to take the shot set the stage for his endgame heroics.

Five years ago, Doug Kramer ran onto the floor to join the pile up over Gec Chia whose buzzer-beating shot sent Ateneo to its second consecutive finals appearance against La Salle. Last year, he found himself at the bottom of a similar pile after an end-game winner of his own doing. This year, sitting at the right side of the patron seats, he found himself running to the court to join his former teammates who were falling over themselves at another improbable finish.

“I’d say Kirk’s was a lot more difficult,” smiled Kramer when asked to compare his famous finish to the one that he has just witnessed. “If you asked me before the match if we were going to win this game, then I would have told you, ‘yes.’ I am that confident.”

You believe him. After all, it boils down to faith.

Old friends still cheering for the Blue & White: photog Joseph Nocos, me, former Blue Eagle Nonoy Chuatico, Martin Lichauco, former Blue Eagles team manager (circa UAAP 80's champs) Cyril Soriano, and former Blue Eagle Paul Chuatico

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

28 Days Later - UAAP Game 9 Ateneo 83 vs FEU 75

28 Days Later - UAAP Game 9 Ateneo 83 vs FEU 75
Round Two UAAP Season 70

by Rick Olivares

August 25, 2007
Ninoy Aquino Stadium

The Return of the King
In the midst of La Salle’s wholesale slaughter of a hapless UP squad, an old warrior entered the Upper A section of the Ninoy Aquino Stadium trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. But some people recognized him, even supporters of rival schools. After all, how many times did he and his Ateneo teams issue their own brand of heartbreak on the court en route to a near three-peat some 20 years ago? After several years abroad, former Ateneo King Eagle Jun Reyes was back. His brother Len, the father of current Blue Eagle guard Jai slipped him a jersey with that familiar number five printed in front.

When Jai Reyes entered the court in the second quarter for the second round match between Ateneo and FEU, he was Mr. Instant Offense. Reyes nailed a jumper and drilled a wide-open trey after the Tamaraws foolishly left him alone. They were to be his only points of the game, but they boosted Ateneo to a 36-31 lead. For many of those who were around to see the uncle Jun make those booming shots back in the late 1980’s, it was a nice feeling of déjà vu to have another Reyes on the floor. Maybe this year’s model could lead Ateneo back to another title (the senior Reyes was in his third year when he won successive MVP Awards while leading Ateneo to back-to-back titles).

But first there was a score to settle.

Revenge is a dish served cold
Twenty-eight days ago, in the careless moment of overconfidence, the FEU Tamaraws pounced on an Ateneo team giddy over its first round beating of De La Salle. The 77-64 loss precipitated a three-game losing skein that put the season on the brink of collapse.

The third straight loss to UE was the last bit of action for the team because of a series of game cancellations owing to stormy weather. The momentary lull allowed the team to get back to basics and for injured rookie Raymond Austria to get back into circulation after a knee injury. For the first time in five weeks, the team was whole again and they couldn’t wait to get back on the court and repay FEU in spades.

In the last encounter, the Tams’ plethora of tall and rangy swingmen oft converted on Ateneo’s horrendous 30 turnovers (the Blue Eagles dubiously led the league in TO’s in the first round). After being down by a deuce at the end of the first quarter, FEU seized on the poor shooting and debilitating turnovers of Ateneo to score 25 points (to our 11) to break the game wide open. It was enough of a buffer to hold Ateneo off and that win of theirs bolstered their confidence.
In place of a “sure win” that would have installed us at solo second, we dropped into a tie with DLSU.

The day before the FEU game, at an adidas function in Trinoma in Quezon City, junior guard Reyes related how the team was itching to get back on track even if they were going right through the heart of order – FEU, UST, and DLSU. “We could have been the team to hand UE their first loss,” he said. “But now, we’re in a tight spot. This is where we’ll see what we’re really made of.”

Seeing red
And what FEU saw was a new wrinkle in Ateneo’s offense. Yuri Escueta has at times been the forgotten man. Despite it being his final playing year, he has hardly seen any meaningful minutes on the floor. But on this day, Ateneo coach Norman Black started Escueta and put him on counterpart Andy Barroca. Escueta is an excellent defensive guard who can drive and dish and his inclusion had an instantaneous effect on the team. The frenetic pace and pound-it-inside game served notice to their first round tormentors that this was a different Ateneo team they were now facing. And they were going to take the full measure of the new and improved Ford Arao.

For years, Arao was best known for making a cameo appearance by scoring a bucket then taking a seat afterwards on account of accumulated fouls or errors or whichever came first. If he scored then it was cause for celebration and he would egg the crowd to cheer louder. This year, armed with a new attitude, this year’s co-captain has seen his game flourish. After hardly making an impact during the first round encounter versus the Tams, Arao finished with his best scoring match in a Blue Eagle uniform -- a game high 22 points (his best game ever would be that first outing of the season against Adamson where he tallied 20 points and hauled down 15 boards). But what was also incredible about his performance was aside from playing his usual enforcer role, he beat the Tamaraw big and small men twice on fastbreaks. This from a guy who probably jumps no higher than the yellow pages.

Long range artillery
With a quarter left to play and both teams battling to a near standstill, it became apparent that all it would take is one run to put the other team away. FEU took first crack at it courtesy of Ric Cawaling and Marlon Adolfo who hit back-to-back threes to start the fourth quarter that gave FEU its penultimate taste of the lead at 63-61.

Chris Tiu who had his best shooting game so far in the season (he shot better than 50% from everywhere on the court and finished with 19 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists), answered with a three of his own to calm down the blue faithful.

Reil Cervantes would knock in a twenty-footer that put FEU once more in the lead at 65-64, but a Rabah Al-Husseini free throw tied it with time down to seven minutes. Now it was Ateneo’s turn.

Earlier in the third quarter when FEU was running long-armed guards to harass Chris Tiu, Norman Black pulled his gunner out for a breather. In a sign of bench depth, the team held with Tiu on the sidelines and Jai Reyes quiet the rest of the way. Now back in the pay-off period, Tiu knocked in a trey from the left corner pocket to give Ateneo a 68-65 lead. Eman Monfort would throw in another one this time from the right side of the arc to hike the lead to 71-65 and the FEU Coach Glenn Capacio called for time.

For three quarters, FEU’s Marnel Baracael almost single-handedly kept the Tams in the fight by posting up Nonoy Baclao or nailing huge threes. In fact, he shot for a blistering 70% accuracy clip for the whole game. But by the fourth, Norman Black’s boys finally put the clamps on him and he only had four meaningless touches the rest of the game.

And then it was Ford Arao time.

In the Season 70 opener against Adamson, there was a stretch where it seemed that it was Ford Arao versus Patrick Cabahug. Of course, Cabahug is a conscience-less sniper who believes a pass is something a man makes at a woman so he top-scored 28-20. Only Arao made an incredible 64% of his field goals as opposed to Cabahug who only ranged for 33%.

Now with this high velocity match reaching its final outcome, Ateneo took control during a crucial two-minute stretch. Arao scored eight straight points to pad Ateneo’s lead 79-68. From the 4:02 game clock, FEU would only score eight more points from a motley crew of Jens Knuttel, Ron Cabagnot, Benedict Fernandez, and Barroca while Tiu, Eric Salamat (7 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists), and Zion Laterre (9 points and 7 boards) chipped in four more Ateneo markers to end the game at 83-75.

And that ancient Ateneo hymn Fly High broke from the stands and 28 days later, Ateneo had its revenge.

It was a joyous Ateneo crowd that broke into the alma mater afterwards. Said one Ateneo photographer, “I had almost forgotten what it was like to win.” Oh, ye of little faith. “One game at a time,” said Jai Reyes as the team headed to the dugout.

Over by the Upper A section, the King still sat quietly albeit with a wide grin on his face and gave his verdict -- he flashed a thumbs up sign.

Author’s dedication:
For the Reyeses -- Chot, Mike, Jun, Billy, and Len -- one of the most awesome hoops-playing families I’ve ever seen. Thanks for the memories and here’s to Jai and Ice continuing the legacy.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

FIBA Americas Sked

Watch Kobe the Man on these dates.....

August 29
USA vs. Puerto Rico
11am LIVE
2pm/8pm replay

August 30
USA vs. Uruguay
11am LIVE
2pm/8pm replay

August 31
USA vs. Argentina
11am LIVE
2pm/8pm replay

On BTV dudes!

Bleachers' Brew: In Through the Out Door

from my Bleachers' Brew column in Business Mirror August 27, 2007
In Through the Out Door
by rick olivares

A few months ago, I wrote a story about an Ateneo Team B hopeful who narrowly missed making the school’s UAAP squad. I received quite a few emails not just from Ateneans but also from alumni and parents of boys from other schools whose sons went through similar experiences (yes, including a former varsity player from La Salle).

Someone asked me why a “nobody” merited a column to which I replied a terse, why not? Where is it written that we have to heap praise and write about people who have far too much press and air in their heads? Sports is rife with stories of failed campaigns or athletes who never made the cut. And sometimes, their stories are way more interesting than that of the winner’s.

What follows are three more true stories of athletes who are all trying to fight for a place in their sport. I chose not to reveal their names.

Death of A Dream
His palms were sweaty in spite of the air-conditioning. He scratched some unknown itch on his nape then stopped because he didn’t want to call unnecessary attention to himself. That was funny. It’s the attention he wanted -- that his name would be called out as a draft pick in the pro basketball league and now he was well on his way to becoming the incredible shrinking man.

He stole a look around. Everyone was lost in his thoughts. Perhaps they all had the same sickening knot in their stomach. He worshipped the basketball gods all his young life – the ones whose posters decorated his bedroom walls more than the pictures of his fawning girlfriend. And suddenly for one Sunday, he along with the dozens of hopefuls got religious. If he knew how to say the Rosary he would. He didn’t have time for that. All his time was spent on the court trying to get better.

At an early age, his family and neighbors noticed that the one thing he could do well was put the ball into the hoop. If you were to go to his Barangay and ask around for the names of 10 famous living people today odds are he’d be in the top five. That’s how good and popular he was. He was the meal ticket out of their family’s miserable days. They thought he was a can’t miss proposition that they told him to forget his studies and concentrate on being the best possible player alive. And that’s what he did.

The problem is, he never went to a name school much less one whose games are televised. He wondered if he had done the right thing by attending the proceedings. Time was fast. Time was agonizingly slow. Until there was room for only one more. A name was called. It took a few moments for the person next to him to realize that his name was called. He slapped the lucky person’s back. Congratulations he mouthed but it was devoid of heartfelt praise. He wished it were he walking to the podium to a life of fame and fortune. It was over and he was out of the room in a flash. The words of the OIC that they are now free agents who can negotiate with any of the ballclubs for a reserve/practice player slot didn’t matter to him.

It was attention he was looking for today. And for the first time in weeks, he’s glad that the masses inside the mall didn’t recognize him. He took a cab and went home.

A Series of Unfortunate Incidents
He comes from the far south where football is king. If you ask him why he plays the sport and not basketball considering that there is no pro league to gravitate to after one’s school days or even national commitments are done, he’ll shrug and fumble for words. All he can say is that he loves the sport and that’s all he knows and is good at. If anything, just to prolong his career, he’ll probably join the military teams.

He is considered one of our country’s best and trained with the national team for quite awhile. But leading into the Asean Cup Qualifiers, he was cut at the last moment by Fil-Foreigners who arrived merely a day before the competition. The sad thing there was that the person who replaced him hardly contributed and only alienated others by throwing tantrums and even dissing the food, Filipinos, and local culture. After the tournament, those players who were cut in favor of the reinforcements were once more elevated to the national team. The insulting thing there was they were asked back so they could warm the spots for the Fil-Foreigners until they returned for the competition proper. But he knew that the team needed the extra bodies since there weren’t enough to hold practices and scrimmages. He swallowed his pride and stayed on hoping that he’d still make the line-up. And then another whammy was dropped on them by sports authorities… we couldn’t field a football team to the next SEA Games because they weren’t contenders. There just wasn’t enough money.

Now he wishes he played basketball.

Avoiding A Third Strike
He’s from the Dominican Republic where the biggest export next to mining resources and agricultural produce are baseball players. As a wiry pitcher whose frame resembled a stick of sugar cane, he did well enough to be signed by a club from Los Angeles. Only he was designated for its farm system where he toiled for four years. The first time he went to his mother club’s ballpark, he was in awe and refused to step onto the field. He told his teammates that the only time he would step onto the field was if he was going to make the team.

If in his native country he could get batters to flail away at his off-speed pitches, against the bigger and well-trained players in America he was serving up home runs like it was batting practice. His club not once but twice released him. He understood the first time, but after the last one, he cried to the high heavens and asked why.

And He answered by putting the pitcher on the roster of the world’s greatest baseball team. After an initial lousy performance where he was demoted to the minor leagues, he bounced back to the majors with a pair of sterling performances. He knows success is fleeting and you are only as good as your last win in such a demanding sport. Yet he’s hoping that this time, he’s on the field for keeps.

Recommended viewing: No Heart As Big: Liverpool FC (the story of their 2002-03 season) DVD and Can I Keep My Jersey by Paul Shirley (the book sold out at Fully Booked but you can re-order through their customer service).

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Slice of Zidane. A Slice of Beckham.

If you've been trying to bend those free kicks like David Beckham, then now you can literally be in his shoes through mi adidas. This program was previously available only to the footwear giant's athlete endorsers but now, anyone can have a shoe custom built and designed just for themselves.

Last Friday, August 24, I was graciously invited by adidas Philippines' Odette Velarde to give it a try and I came away feeling like a celebrity! Hahaha. Feeling endorser. It was a great experience. Check out the video so you can see what it was like. And there's a JC Intal cameo.

Purefoods coach Ryan Gregorio, San Miguel center Rico Villanueva, my former boss Jude Turcuato, Blue Eagle Jai Reyes, and JC were present to also lend a hend for the promotion of THE RIGHT TO PLAY program of adidas. Basically they're selling a special edition football (that is small in size) where the proceeds go to specially-designed programs that make use of sport and values enrichment modules to improve health, build life skills, and foster peace in countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

Hey ya'll support this!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Losing and that long ride home

During a recent UAAP game, I was watching the UP Maroons get shellacked by the UE Red Warriors when I told a few friends, "These are the games -- in hindsight -- you wish you just stayed home to watch." They all agreed. Some mumbled silently and cussed.

If you were home, and the rout was on in the game's first quarter or so, then you could change the channel, pretend that you have something more interesting to do, pout, or go out. Madrama. Yes, but that's so true.

On the other hand if you were at the Cuneta Astrodome then damn! That's a loooong way home.

I know the feeling, guys. In oh-so many ways.

I have made dozens and dozens of pilgrimages to Yankee Stadium to watch my beloved Yankees play. Thank God for the most part, like 70% of the games I've seen were wins. But can you imagine if they were tough losses? And I wasn't the type who'd get up and leave early even if it was like the 6th inning only.

Evening games at the Stadium start like 7:05pm. And it take anywhere from two and a half hours to three plus to play unless someone's working on a no-hitter. One night, it went up all the way to four-plus hours in extra innings. And I was living in Jersey City then. That's like a 30-minute subway ride down to Port Authority (and I gotta hoof it for like 10 minutes to get to the upper floors where the buses transfer to after 11pm). I'm lucky if there's a short line and the bus arrives within 30-minutes. But if it's later than that, say around 1am, then I have to go to the basement where it's like a one hour wait. The ticket vending machine is so indecipherable and there are no more PATH Trains to Jersey after 12mn.

That's why it was fortitious to be able to move to Manhattan later on. I could stay up all night. My friends marveled at how fast I knew my way around the subway.

But back to those long games where i'ts hard to suck up those losses... all I can say is: Thank God for Comcast with its hundreds of channels.

Imagine... that horrendous loss to the Los Angeles Angels 18-9. Moose lasted one 1 & 2/3 innings. Damn. Think of the loss and that long ride home.

So now, turn off the TV, guys! Now they're six games behind the Red Sox.

I guess you can imagine how I felt after Ateneo's loss to UE in this second round. Thankfully it was at the Araneta Coliseum and I live five minutes away from ADMU.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

FIBA Americas

Monday, August 20, 2007

The weekend that got me rolling

Manchester City beat Manchester United 1-0. Sven is now 3-0 with three shutouts.

Liverpool tied Chelsea 1-1 after a terribly officited match that saw referee Rob Styles award a controversial penalty to Frank Lampard.

Yankees took 3-4 from the Detroit Tigers. Now they're four games behind the Red Sox.

Doug Kramer & JC Intal to Air21 with Macky Escalona to Ginebra.

UE Red Warriors are now 9-0.

Lastly, James Blake.... yes, he lost to Roger Federer. No Shame in that. But when are you going to play consistently?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Chicken Soup for the Sports Fan

Bleachers' Brew #70 (from my Monday column in Business Mirror's sports section) August 20, 2007

Chicken Soup for Sports Fans
by rick olivares

Stop me if you’ve read this before. Of course you have… in my column two weeks ago and unfortunately, it’s like a recurring nightmare.

There’s Tim Donaghy in the news once more saying that he’s ready to spill the beans on other gambling and other erring referees. There’s doping in the World University Games, a competition supposedly for college students. There’s Noli Eala out as PBA Commish. There’s the terrible and atrocious officiating in the UAAP. And now there are allegations of steroid use in golf and game fixing in a tennis match involving world #4 Nikolay Davydenko and 87th-ranked Martin Arguello. Nikolay Davydenko! Tennis! Is nothing sacred anymore? Oh yeah, right. Didn’t we have cheating in chess recently as well? So I guess, I shouldn’t be surprised. Next you’ll tell me that there’s violence in ice skating. Oh yeah, I forgot -- there’s Tonya Harding.

You’ll have to pardon me if I’m officially tuning myself out of all bad sports news. One can only take so much. Where’s Gary Gnu when you need him? Remember, “No news is good Gnews?”

Sadly for every stirring triumph there are many other stories of corruption and scandals. But I guess one really does have to go through fire and hardship first before they triumph. The journey, after all, is everything.

While sifting through the box scores, match results, and print and online commentary that is part of my daily ritual, a couple of stories in the last few weeks and days have struck me and are stuck in my head like a song on my ipod. They’re not exactly of excessive sugary content that would make a diabetic jealous. They’re disturbing when you get right to the details, but at the end of it all, they offer hope, something that can never be in short supply in this crazy mad world we live in.

When the Iraqi national football team beat Saudi Arabia in the recent Asian Football Cup, I felt it was a most incredible feat. Imagine, for a team that practices collectively for only one hour a day because of security concerns, beating a well-heeled and moneyed Saudi team is more than a simple David and Goliath story. It’s redemption against all odds. It’s a ray of sunshine in a country that seems to have no hope. The Iraqis have no “name players” who ply their trade in fancied European clubs. Their captain Younis Mahmoud is the only one who sees action outside the country (as if playing in Qatar is deemed huge). They use their talent as a means to get out of their misery and to represent their country in spite of all the turmoil wrought by an ill-conceived invasion. And for all their exploits on the pitch (including placing second in the 2006 Doha Asian Games), the players can’t even fly back home lest they be murdered.

Football in Iraq is a horror story like no other. For two decades before Saddam Hussein was ousted, the Iraqi sports scene was the personal playground of the dictator’s evil son, Uday who tortured players, made them kick cement walls until their feet were bloodied stumps, and jailed them after losing matches. As Simon Freeman wrote in his book Baghdad FC, “I hoped to find heroes who wanted to save football in Iraq. But I found none. All who defied Uday were dead.”

When they made their spectacular run in the Athens Olympics, it showed the healing power of the sport in a war-torn country. Even with their victory in the Asian Cup, no rise in FIFA’s rankings (currently at #80) will assuage their fears and feelings. Not while their country is on the brink of total anarchy.

And speaking of anarchy, who would have thought that the grainy and wobbly footage of women about to be executed would spark a revolution both in their country’s government and in women’s sports? The clandestinely shot footage shows three Afghan women brought to a football stadium in Afghanistan and made to kneel along the penalty line. One by one they were shot and killed as the crowds cheered their Taliban assailants. The footage was smuggled out of the country and is one of the West’s few documented atrocities of the Taliban. It was used as a part of the BBC documentary titled Behind the Veil, a glimpse of the horror of the repressive Taliban regime before their ouster by American forces following the events of 9-11. It’s a heroic piece of reporting by Afghan-British correspondent Saira Shah who traveled undercover life in the post-Soviet pullout. It depicted the secret lives of women who fought the fundamentalist government by providing home education and cottage industries as a means of empowerment and fighting a government of monsters.

Now several years after the Taliban were overthrown, a part of the boon of that resistance that is the Afghan women’s football team will play their first ever football match against Pakistan in Islamabad. The team’s coach, Abdul Saboor Walizadah says that at first, the girls’ families didn’t want them playing football. Now they’re all comfortable with it. Their problem now is the lack of a venue for suitable training. The net effect on Afghan society is telling. Hundreds of women have now taken up a variety of sports including boxing and taekwondo not just for recreation but also for Olympic competition.

On the local front, a friend of mine, Ed Formoso, the PR Officer of the Philippine Football Federation, is engaged in Gawad Kalinga’s football program. Together with the Women’s National Team coach Marlon Maro, they go about organizing football seminars in GK Villages for kids. It’s an incredible sight to see these young boys in basketball sneakers and gear playing the beautiful game and enjoying it. These kids in turn become instructors in their own villages where they pass on their knowledge to their peers. I was able to talk to several of these young coaches and their thirst for knowledge about the game is great. Despite the lack of a domestic professional league that would surely boost the sport, the kids know one thing is for sure… the game is also about changing perceptions, opening opportunities, and if we’re all very lucky, healing the world. In a recent tournament against some of the top footballing schools in Metro Manila, the GK team made it to the finals where they lost in a penalty shoot out.

Faces in the crowd: Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Tony Romo as he tries to bring back a talented team back in the play-offs after his infamous fumble in last year’s post-season. Go, Tony!

For baseball fans, Actor John Turturro delivers a masterful performance as the late New York Yankees skipper Billy Martin in ESPN’s The Bronx Is Burning mini-series. It’s a behind the scenes look at a most fascinating year in New York that is 1977. The city was gripped in a myriad of events such as the hunt for the serial killer dubbed as the Son of Sam, a citywide blackout that resulted in arson and looting, a financial crisis that besieged Mayor Abe Beame, and there were the Yankees who gave the city a ray of hope. When I watch the footage dating from the previous 1976 play-offs where Chris Chambliss’ home run sent the Bronx Bombers into the World Series after more than a decade-long drought (where they ultimately fell to the Cincinnati Reds) all the way to that spectacular October 1977 where Reggie Jackson cemented his legacy, I get goose bumps. I was a kid then who was into the Philadelphia 76ers (who lost the NBA Finals to Portland), the New York Cosmos (who won the NASL title), and the Yankees (who won their 21st World Series) and it forever made me into a sports fan.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

UAAP Game Day Hoop Thoughts - Saturday Aug. 18

ADMU-UP 2nd Round Tiff
I don't recall a basketball season where a lot of games have been postponed because of the weather.

There's something in my gut that tells me that it monkeys around with a team's mindset.

Just a thought here, before Ateneo's last game against UE, they were supposed to play Adamson. But we all know now that the match versus the Falcons was moved. Now instead of getting a win and their confidence going against Jing Ruiz' squad (c'mon he's the real coach, not Bogs Adornado), the Blue Eagles had to play a tough match against the Red Warriors in which they lost.

On the flipside, last Thursday, UP was supposed to play UST. Now it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if our friends from Maroon country got bamboozled by the Tigers, they'd be softened up for the Blue Eagles with only a day's rest to get that match out of their mind. As it is, everyone's had like a week or more to get some rest and any bad memories over ugly losses are in the back burner if only for bit.

So here's saying that the Maroons -- problems and all -- will play Ateneo hard. Hopefully, the Blue Eagles can escape the upset ax.

But then again, the weather's bad today, so maybe a re-set is in the offing.

What's wrong with DLSU? I think the reason why there aren't killing teams the way they should be is, they expended a lot of energy in the pre-season when they won the Nike and FilOil leagues. I noticed while a lot of teams don't really go all out, the Green Archers really played them like their lives depended on it. Of course that's the proper mentality, but years down the road, those tourneys are only like the American NIT or whatnot -- who gives a flying you-know-what? It's the UAAP that matters. Not anything else like the Champions League, Fr. Martin, and that just awful Homegrown crap. What the hell does homegrown mean anyways? If you're looking at that, it's only ADMU (but their number of true blue players has significantly gone down), San Beda, and maybe UST that plays athletes who've come through the school system.

Getting people to change their mindsets is difficult but it can be done.

Look at how the English Premiere League came about after so many years of the Football League First Division (since 1888 if I am not mistaken). Then came 1992 when the EPL came into being that organized the league into what it is today. of course, it may have similar origins to the BAP-PBA split in the early 1970's too, but that really got people to recognize.

Ah, I've strayed from the Green Archers... looks like they've gotten banged up and all from the pre-season games. And if you ask me, those guys trained and played everywhere even (abroad) when they were suspended -- so much for going to class. But this is La Salle we're talking about. They're like a pro team in college hoops. They'll be getting their second wind this second round and the league should be worried. And if they do win the UAAP hoops crown, then they'll make mention of their pre-season triumphs. If not, the wags in their camp will point out that maybe they shouldn't have gone all out there.

One last note on pre-season training. Some thought that the Blue Eagles got their best training by going into the Abunazzar camp. I agree with that assessment just a teeny tiny bit. Because they way it looks right now, some Ateneo observers are right when they said -- in the pre-season -- that the best training they can get was by playing in the FilOil and Nike leagues with their full complement of Team A where they would have sized up the opposition as well. Although that works both ways, whatever aces Ateneo has been hiding hasn't come to play yet. But then again, there are six more games and Ford Arao and Jobe have been trump cards of sorts.

Does the league review the referees and their officiating after each game? Do they sit down to watch game tape? Because I don't see to many significant changes because they still make the same lame and suspicious calls. And if you ask me, UST gets far too many favorable calls dating all the way to last year. That's not sour graping, effendi. If you take off your biased cap then watch the games intently, you'll see a lot of really questionable calls.

Isn't it amazing how the Tamaraws always manages to bring in the same type of player who can jack up a three, drive for a scoop, run the break and rebound like a pogo stick? Every other year, they bring in a player who they just plug in to take the slots vacated by guys like Anthony Williams, Andy de Guzman, Henry Padaong, Joe Francisco, Ronald Magtulis, Arwind Santos, RJ Rizada, and now their plethora of swingmen in JR Cawaling, Marnel Baracael, and the rest of their gang.


My thoughts as of 7am of Saturday morning.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Drive of Ford Arao

The Drive of Ford Arao
by rick olivares

photo by Miggy Mendoza

Get your motor running

Prior to this start of the UAAP Men’s Basketball season, it was easy to overlook Claiford Arao on the Blue Eagles’ line-up. That’s an ironic thing to say when Ford stands 6 feet 5 inches. But it’s easy to get lost in a basketball team where height is might and when other players have outshone him since his arrival as a blue chip recruit out of Ato Badolato’s fabled San Beda Red Cubs.

You can almost say that Ford is used to being one of the guys. Growing up in Alaminos, Pangasinan, he would hang out with his friends engaged in the usual pursuits of a young kid his age. He found himself taller than most of his friends yet basketball was farthest from his mind. When they played, they used a puny tennis ball and shot at a small ring on an even smaller court.

The father of one of his neighborhood friends, Arvi Braganza brought the boys to Manila hoping they’d get a chance to play for any varsity team. The moment Ato Badolato saw Arao and Braganza, his immediate reaction was, “O, sa amin na kayo.” Ford thought that it was both funny and great since they hardly knew how to play. But for the legendary Badolato, it was simple – the skills can be acquired; on the other hand, you can’t teach height. Red-shirted for his junior year to acclimate himself with the school system, Ford watched LA Tenorio power the Red Cubs to the NCAA Juniors title. The following year, with teammates Yuri Escueta and JV Casio, they brought San Beda back to title game but they lost to the Letran Squires of JC Intal and JR Reyes.

The following year, the Red Cubs got their revenge against a Squires team that was led by current La Salle Green Archer PJ Walsham.

Changing lanes: From Mendiola to Loyola

It’s a sight and experience that many Ateneans can identify with. The San Beda Red Lions were no longer the king of the NCAA basketball jungle. The school’s saving grace was its juniors squad. However multi-titled the Red Cubs were, most of its star players opted to play elsewhere. The University of the Philippines and De La Salle were at first the most attractive destinations for the migrating Cubs. As for Ateneo? It was nowhere near close.

The last time the Blue Eagles landed any significant pick-ups from its former NCAA rival were bothers Bobby and Mon Rius. Bobby played alongside current University Athletics Director Ricky Palou, the legendary Francis Arnaiz, Chito Afable, Joy Cleofas, and Marte Samson on that powerful 1969 Blue Eagles squad that walloped everyone – including pro teams in the MICAA – on their way to the seniors crown. But when Magnum Membrere and LA Tenorio donned the blue and white in succession during the 2000 and 2001 seasons, it opened the floodgates for former NCAA rivals to go to Ateneo for college.

There were eight players on that Red Cubs team that thought about transferring to Ateneo. JV Casio, their deadshot gunner was earmarked for La Salle way before they even played their fourth and final year in high school. It was Arao, Escueta, Mike Baldos, Braganza, and Jeff De Guzman who eventually made it to Ateneo.

Ford was thrilled to crack the Blue Eagles line-up in his rookie year. Ateneo was just coming off a spectacular run to the 2002 UAAP Men’s Basketball crown. Although the team lost its powerful center Enrico Villanueva, back-up stud Sonny Tadeo, guards Marco Benitez, Chris Quimpo, Andrew Cruz and swingman Gec Chia, they were still plenty loaded as they still had Wesley Gonzales, two-time MVP Rich Alvarez, Paolo Bugia, Larry Fonacier, Membrere, and Tenorio. Plus they had sophomores Macky Escalona, Doug Kramer, and JC Intal coming off the bench. “Hindi ako nag-expect ng playing time noon,” recalled Arao. “Pero grabe yung season na yun. Exciting.”

It was only on the court where Arao had to pinch himself to make sure he wasn’t dreaming. It was one thing to play for the glamorous Blue Eagles and it was another thing trying to survive in a different educational environment while trying to make the QPI. “Sobrang iba from San Beda kaya nahirapan ako mag-adjust,” said Arao of that rollercoaster first year. “Very demanding at mahirap i-balance yung studies at paglalaro. Siguro yun ang pinakamalaking difference, hindi mo pwedeng pabayaan yung studies mo kesyo athlete ka.”

Stuck on neutral

There was a moment when Ford thought that he was living a dream. He won a championship in his final year in high school and he looked to win another in his rookie season in blue. But after disposing of La Salle in a hard-fought Final Four series, Ateneo came out flat and with almost no gas in the tank against the FEU Tamaraws. They were swept away.

Though the team was still loaded to make continuous runs to the UAAP championship, they bombed out during the Final Four in successive years before making it back to the Big Dance last season before another nightmarish loss to the UST Tigers. A loss that still haunts the team to this day.

In LA Tenorio’s final go-around, Ford was beginning to make serious strides in his game when an ACL injury knocked him out for the year.

“Noong una, okay lang na hindi masyado nakakapaglaro kasi maraming veterans sa team,” said Arao. “Pero naging frustrating kasi sa practice maganda naman ang pinapakita. Pagdating sa laro, hindi ko magawa yung dapat kong gawin.” It didn’t help that coming off the bench for Kramer, Japeth Aguilar, and Rabah Al-Husseini told heavily on his confidence.

“Sabi ko na lang sa sarili ko na kailangan mag-step up and maging mas patient.”

New-found focus
In his four years thus far, he saw the Blue Eagles twice make it to the UAAP Finals but fall short each time. “Siyempre, hindi mawawala yung mga pagkatalo na yun. Tulad ng last year, sayang talaga. Hindi ko alam yung iba pero naiisip ko yung Game Three pa-minsan minsan.”

Now in his final outing with the blue and white, Ford can’t help but wax sentimental. He admits that the past two seasons (the current one included) have been his most enjoyable. The team has bonded well and playing for Norman Black has been fulfilling. Having grown up watching those great San Miguel teams of old with Black as the Beermen’s import and later their coach has been a real thrill.

For Coach Black, helping Arao reach his potential is one of his goals aside from making sure the team is in the thick of the fight. Arao saw the transformation of Doug Kramer from a bit player to a vital cog in Ateneo’s campaigns over his past two seasons. And he’s willing to put in more hard work to help the school to another basketball crown and give him a chance to go to the pros.

If you’ve been following the Blue Eagles this season 70 very closely, you might have noticed that from the moment Ford Arao jogs on to the court for the team’s round robin all the way to the game’s final buzzer, he sports that look of determination. Appointed co-captain along with Chris Tiu and Zion Laterre, Ford doesn’t mind letting the others handle the motivational talks. “Hindi naman ako masilita so gagawin ko ang kaya ko sa laro at sa court,” he underscored.

Suddenly, the once slow-footed and prodding slotman is born again. He is finally showcasing the low post power that was on display when he was heavily recruited out of San Beda. He has become a steady source of points for the team while adding some solid rebounding numbers.

The long and winding road

It could be all over in as little as eight weeks from now. He thinks of how God has blessed him to send him on a journey that has taken him to places that never crossed his mind while daydreaming back in Pangasinan. While convalescing from his ACL injury, he had much time to think during those long and boring days of rehab. He knows he wasn’t always serious about things, appreciative even, but somehow life has a way of making you pause to think of your place in the firmament.

He treasures every single day from going to class and to practice. From game days to even the team-only meetings where players get to say their piece. And an immense part of his joy is in his fifth and final year, a couple of his old running mates from the Red Cubs – guard Yuri Escueta and forward Mike Baldos – are on the team together. “Marami kaming pinagsamahan. Ngayon may pagkakataon ulit na manalo ng championship na magkakasama kami. Hindi ba kung hindi ba naman mabait ang Diyos?”

When he’s on the bench, you’ll find him clapping and cheering along to the cheers. But the one cheer that really gets him going is “Go Ateneo!” “Sobrang nakakataas ng balahibo yun,” he recounted of the adrenaline surge. “Sobrang nakaka-inspire.”

“Alam ko na hindi ako nagkamali sa pinili ko na school (Ateneo),” he points out emphatically. He stops there not sure how else to express his feelings. He nods and says, “Galeng” repeatedly like a mantra.

But that’s fine. He can’t wait to express his feelings on the court because it’s his time.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Floor Guys Roll Call ADMU vs. UE Round 2

Me, Mhel Garrido, Philip Sison, Allyson Yap.

Thanks to Miggy Mendoza for the shot.

The World Game 101 Part 3

Last part in the 2007-08 Football Season preview

8. Will David Beckham turn the fortunes of the LA Galaxy around and how America views football?
Let me make it clear… I am rooting for Becks to succeed. But there’s no way he can do it alone. Becks may be a one-man advertising and fashion conglomerate, but his free kicks alone will not be enough to bend Major League Soccer to the level of the NFL, NBA, MLB, or NHL. As good as he is at knocking down long bombs or setting up teammates, he has always been a complementary player. Forget his 60-yard shot against Wimbledon in 1996, Becks was there when Eric Cantona ruled and when Roy Keane and Ruud Van Nistelrooy were scoring in bunches. Those were Manchester United’s main men.

If Golden Balls is able to lead the last-place Galaxy to its second ever league championship, then it’s a match made in Hollywood heaven. If not, he can wish that a few more high-profile stars (Mexican star Cuauhtémoc Blanco is already in the league) like his retired former teammate Zinedine Zidane or Ronaldo to move stateside to reprise the New York Cosmos in the 1970’s when they had Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff, and Giorgio Chinaglia who formed the original version of Los Galacticos.

The former England captain will find it hard to resurrect a team that is woefully inconsistent despite acquiring Portuguese defender and former Liverpool Red Abel Xavier, Honduran striker Carlos Pavon, Canadian defender Ante Jazic, former American national team member Chris Klein. Even the presence of Captain America, Landon Donovan, hasn’t been enough to shake the Galaxy out of its doldrums.

The league changed the Galaxy’s schedule to ensure that most of their games will be played after Beckham’s arrival. That is unheard of for any pro league -- to fiddle with a schedule to accommodate and maximize one man’s presence. Becks knows that America rightly or wrongly expects him to score a bushel-load of goals, but that’s part and parcel of coming with a hefty price tag. Should the losing continue and Becks remains hobbled on the sidelines, the crowds will once more dwindle and they’ll decide that he’s just a one-trick pony.

9. Where will the next influx of football talent come from?
Look out Brazil, Argentina. The next wave of superstars to flood European clubs will be coming from those who wear Mexico’s El Tricolor. With Mexico’s players displaying some superb game in the recent CONCACAF, the Copa America, and the just concluded Under-20 World Cup, former Real Madrid striker Hugo Sanchez won’t be an aberration in the annals of his country’s football legacy.
Although no Mexican squad has advanced to the round of sixteen in World Cup play, European clubs are now taking a long hard look at Sanchez’ troops.
Despite missing the injured Jared Borgetti, and the trio of Pavel Pardo, Carlos Salcido, and Ricardo Osorio, Sanchez’ young and inexperienced team walloped Brazil, Uruguay, and Venezuela to place third in the Copa America.

Now striker Nery Castillo, goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, and Mexican Primera Division champions Pachuca’s Three Kings Juan Carlos Cacho, Fausto Pinto, and Jaime Correa, and Guadalajara’s Johnny Magallon are being scouted.

In the just-concluded Under-20 World Cup Finals held in Canada, El Tricolor, behind Barcelona’s Giovanni Dos Santos and Arsenal’s Carlos Vela, won four straight matches – the most ever by a national team in finals competition. Okay, so they lost 1-nil to the Copa America finalist Argentina. But mind you, they lost by an own-goal. So that’s some small consolation. Incidentally, the duo powered Mexico to the Under-17 World Championship in Peru in 2005.

And in the wake of the 2006 World Cup Finals, Mexicans have begun to slowly make their way into Europe. The latest being Andres Guardado who was just signed by Deportivo La Coruna joining Osorio and Pardo who are both in Stuttgart, and Salcido who is with PSV Eindhoven.

There’s a new power in football arising from the Americas. They may be from the north, but they were the Tricolor.

10. Who are my predications to win their respective league titles?
I’m going on a limb here. While some may seem like easy picks, lest assured I’ve heavily weighed in their performances from last year and the pre-season while taking a long gander at the line-ups.

Premiere League – Liverpool
La Liga – Barcelona
Serie A – Inter Milan
Bundesliga – Bayern Munich
Ligue 1 - Marseille
Eredivisie – Ajax Amsterdam
Portuguese Primera Liga – Porto

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Phil Rizzuto RIP

"Heaven must have needed a shortstop," said New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. And one of the last remnants on those great Yankee teams of the 1950's-'60's passed away after years of ill health while living in West Orange, New Jersey.

Rizzuto, known as "The Scooter," was the oldest living Hall of Famer. He played for the Yankees throughout the 1940s and '50s, won seven World Series titles, was an AL MVP and played in five All-Star games.

I only know him from his broadcasts in the 80's and 90's where his "Holy Cow" and "there's another huckleberry" puncuated broadcasts. I never saw him in those Old Timer's games, but I did get to see him in the Stadium once. And I do have those Yankee DVD's where the Scooter, Yogi Berra, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Roger Maris, and so many others come alive for me.

Born in Brooklyn, Rizzuto tried out with the Dodgers and New York Giants when he was 16, but because of his size was dismissed by Dodgers manager Casey Stengel, who told him to "Go get a shoeshine box." He went on to become one of Stengel's most dependable players.

A Rizzuto bunt, a steal and a DiMaggio hit made up the scoring trademark of the Yankees' golden era, and he played errorless ball in 21 consecutive World Series games. DiMaggio said the shortstop "held the team together."

Rizzuto came to the Yankees in 1941 and batted .307 as a rookie. After the war, he returned in 1946 and became the American League MVP in 1950. He batted .324 that season with a slugging percentage of .439 and 200 hits, second most in the league. He also went 58 games without an error, making 288 straight plays.

He led all AL shortstops in double plays three times and had a career batting average of .273 with at least a .930 fielding percentage. He played in five All-Star games.

Rizzuto remembered Aug. 25, 1956, as a day he thought was the "end of the world," the day Stengel released him to make room for clutch-hitting Enos Slaughter in the pennant drive.

Rizzuto then began a second career as a broadcaster, one for which he became at least equally well known. His voice dripped with his native Brooklyn.

Get some rest, Mr. Rizzuto. You're gonna be playing baseball up there soon.

Forever a fan.

Hanging with the Sports Stars

Actually, these guys are nothing more than wax dummies from Madame Tussaud's in Hong Kong. It costs HK$130 per pax along with the round trip Peak Tram ride.

It's not every day I get to block a seven footer, even if it's only a wax dummy. Don't tell the real deal Yao though. He might stuff me through the hoop.

Mouthing off with the Champ.

Isn't that the LA Galaxy and their sucky record up ahead?

Sizing up Dirk Nowitski at the NBA Madness exhibit at the Peak.

The World Game 101 Part 2

The second part in our Euro football 2007-08 season preview.

Business Mirror's resident football expert sizes up the Euro leagues. His passion for Liverpool football, he says, will not get in the way of making an objective prediction as to who will win the Premiere League.

5. Will Rafa Benitez survive this season?
Second place in the Champions League might have saved a lackluster season at Anfield, but the wheels are quickly turning for Rafa Benitez. The 2005 victory at Istanbul has now been consigned to the Reds’ distant memory now that AC Milan exorcised their ghosts by gaining revenge in Athens. So where do they go this season?

“Of course we want to win the Champions League, the Premiere League, the FA Cup, and the Carling Cup. That goes without saying,” he says without batting an eyelash. “I am happy now with my squad. We have two players for every position; that will make things easier for me as we play on four fronts.”

Benitez is determined to make an impact in all four competitions rather than having to virtually choose two because of the size and quality of previous squads. He has challenged his four strikers – newly acquired Fernando Torres (99 goals in six seasons with Atletico Madrid), Andriy Voronin (32 goals in three years with Bayer Leverkusen), Peter Crouch, and Dirk Kuyt (12 goals) to score 60 goals between them. “I want goals,” underscores the gaffer who spent L40 million in the summer to bring his team up to championship contender level with Manchester United and Chelsea. And having Torres in the line-up gives the Reds the finishing touch they so sorely needed in close matches the last season.

Standing in the way of Liverpool’s first English league title (the last time they won was right before the English Premiere League was put up in the early 1992) is defending champion Manchester United. The Red Devils are brimming with off-season acquisitions like striker Carlos Tevez (in a controversial move from West Ham) and Owen Hargreaves brought in from Bayern Munich gives the team so much flexibility from midfield (and you know that Sir Alex Ferguson was thinking of their European campaign as well). There’s also Brazilian Anderson out of FC Porto who is being groomed to take over Ronaldinho’s spot on the national team and winger Nani from Sporting CP in the Portuguese League. Tevez’ acquisition couldn’t have come at a better time since striker Wayne Rooney suffered a hairline fracture in his left foot in the Red Devils’ opening game 0-0 draw against Reading. But nevertheless, Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo up front are frightening enough.

Liverpool has been given a massive dose of cash by Tom Hicks and George Gillet, the team’s American owners. It has also been an 18-year wait for the Merseyside team. If they can’t win any title this year, look for Benitez to maybe transfer to Madrid.

6. Is Lyon still capable of winning a seventh straight Ligue 1 title?
For the first time in seven years, no one is asking who’s going to finish second in the French league? The question should therefore be, can Marseille knockdown Lyon from its lofty perch?

After a draining campaign that saw manager Gerard Houllier resign at the end of the season, the chinks in Olympique Lyonnaise’s armor are even more evident. They won last season’s league title only on the strength of their pre-winter showing where they amassed 50 points that buffered their second half slide. But that’s not the least of their problems for the infighting that plagued the team has supposedly been squelched. Their losses in European competition over the last several years have started to take its toil not just on the team but French football’s psyche. All the French sides (including Marseille and Toulouse) have been sent home packing while hardly impressing anyone. Florent Malouda has moved to Chelsea in the English Premiere League that not only pays better but also fares better in UEFA competition. Eric Abidal has likewise taken the high road to Barca.

And that’s a burden new manager Alain Perrin will have to bear and address. He added Matthieu Bodmer, Kader Keita, and Nadir Belhadh to plug the holes of Lyon’s losses. But OL’s biggest addition may be World Cup winner and Inter Milan defensive stud Fabio Grosso.

Unfortunately for Lyon, the gap has been closing in with Marseille. Manager Albert Emon not only brought in coaching stability but also quality players to challenge for the Ligue 1 title. There are midfielders Karim Ziani from Sochaux and Benoit Cheyrou from Auxerre, defender Gael Givet from Monaco to shore up the backline, and Samir Nasri to add some scoring punch. Monaco, Bordeaux, and Paris Saint-Germain though not maybe as strong as the top two teams will give the champs a run for their money.

7. Will the partnership of Thaksin Shinawatra and Sven-Goran Eriksson make Manchester a two-city team?
Of course Manchester has two teams, but when you say “Manchester,” then its United.

Say what you will about Eriksson’s tenure as England manager, but he does know how to turn a team around. He has won 14 major trophies and only flopped with one club, Fiorentina, where he spent two ill-fated years.

Man City finally has an owner with the resources to compete with the big boys and the manager who has that winner’s pedigree having more awards than the club has ever had. And Eriksson has wasted no time in whipping his new troops into shape and a 2-0 win over West Ham in the opening match of the season that did much to calm nerves at Eastlands. And the cherry on the cake for City? Two of Sven's summer recruits – Deiberson Geovanni and Rolando Bianchi -- were on the score sheet.

Expect the Richard Dunne, Joey Barton, and Nedum Onuoha to step up and for the side to finish better than its 14th place finish last season.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The World Game 101 Part 1

Euro Football 2007-08 Preview
by rick olivares

from Business Mirror dated August 14, 2007

Business Mirror’s resident football expert, Rick Olivares, puts the 2007-08 season in perspective covering almost every major league in the world.

1. What does the return of Juventus to the Serie A mean for the league?

The Calciopoli is now a thing of the past as are most of the vestiges of the old regime whose lack of respect for the game saw a humiliating demotion to the second division that followed a match-fixing scandal in 2006. Gone are directors Luciano Moggi, Roberto Bettega, and Antonio Giraudo who were at Old Lady’s helm over the past decade or so. Fabio Cannavaro, Emerson, Patrick Viera, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Gianluca Zambrotta, and Lilian Thuram are now a year gone dispersed across the continent.

Guiding Italy’s most famous club these days are president Giovanni Coboli Gigli, managing director Jean-Claude Blanc, and new coach Claudio Ranieri who replaced Didier Deschamps after the former French and Juve star inexplicably bolted last May after Juve clinched the Serie B. With everyone almost all gone, Juventus will have to rely on a small core of veterans in skipper and striker Alessandro Del Piero (24 goals) and Frenchman David Trezeguet (15 goals), Czech midfielder Pavel Nedved (11 goals), Argentine midfielder Mauro Camoranesi (4 goals), and the world’s greatest goalkeeper in Gigi Buffon. But their leadership and veteran savvy will be put to the test when they lead their new corps of players including former Udinese striker Vincenzo Iaquinta, Czech defender Zdenek Grygera late of Ajax Amsterdam, Portuguese defenseman Jorge Andrade from Deportivo La Coruna, Bosnian midfielder Hasan Salihamidzic out of Bayern Munich, and Argentine midfielder Sergio Amiron who was with Empoli last year.

The big name players are still around and management has done a marvelous job of surrounding them with talented new players. They have a three-year plan to return to greatness but even now, their foes, particularly current champion Inter Milan, are wary. The champions may have lost Fabio Grosso to Lyon, but if ever, they don’t figure to miss a beat more so since they added David Suazo from Cagliari, Nelson Rivas from River Plate, and Christian Chivu from AS Roma. UEFA champion AC Milan in the meantime still haven’t gotten back Andriy Shevchenko after his poor first year with Chelsea. Carlo Ancelotti lost five players in this off-season and still hasn’t replaced them with any big free agent signings. Brazilian striker Alexandre Pato, from Inter Milan won’t be able to join his club until January 2008.

Despite the demotion, the points reduction, and the dispersal of many of their players, the bianconeri, still won the Serie B (with a slate of 28-10-4) and a promotion back to the top division. Either that says a lot about the state of Italy’s second division or about the 27-time league champs’ resiliency. And Juventus’ three-headed attack of Del Piero, Trezeguet, and Iaquinta will be frightening. Said Ranieri, “It is only when we begin playing if we’ll know how we stand with Milan and Inter, but I can guarantee to people everywhere that we will be playing to win.”

2. Will Arsenal survive the departure of Thierry Henry?
Only if this suddenly young team gets its act together. However, with all apologies to English fans, the only French team in the English Premiere League still won’t lose its Franco influence. Arsene Wegner, in perhaps his last year with the club that he helped define, is still calling the shots, defender William Gallas will be wearing the captain’s armband, and their youthful core of Abu Diaby, Gael Clichy, and Bacary Sagna will help provide great help for this team.

I’m actually surprised that the team didn’t hand the captainship to Cesc Fabregas who led Arsenal last season while the injured Henry constantly groused and failed to provide leadership on and off the pitch. Nevertheless, if Fabregas and Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner, who on loan to Birmingham City last season, perform well up front with Rob Van Persie, Emmanuel Adebayor, and Eduardo da Silva (late of Dinamo Zagreb) they’ll challenge for the Premiership title. But you don’t have to worry about the team’s defense. And watch out for Brazilian Denilson on this squad; he’ll be the team’s x-factor.


I agree with former captain Patrick Viera (now with Inter Milan) who strongly believes that the Gunners have what it takes to survive. "When I left Arsenal I knew they had good quality players in midfield to come in - they had Cesc Fabregas to replace me. You have to remember when Thierry came in he had to replace Ian Wright, which was not an easy thing to do. It is important to know that nobody is bigger than the club itself and I hope Arsenal will keep progressing.”

But Arsenal will have to up the ante if they want to better last year’s fourth place finish in the premiership. Said new skipper Gallas, “If we want to win, we’ll have to be ruthless in our attack and take a lot more chances. Last year, we were tentative (with Henry out for most of the year) and we were waiting to see who’d step up. This year we truly will see what we’re made of.”

3. Will Real Madrid stave off Barcelona’s challenge?
For much of last season, Real Madrid had to contend with the white hankies of disenchantment and the boos that rained down from the Bernabeu. When the club resurrected itself in the last third of the season to rally and snatch the league title from Barcelona on the last playing day of the year, only then did the crowd began to cheer lustily.

Much was made about the boring football and the alienation caused by former coach Fabio Capello and club president Ramon Calderon. With Fabio named as the scapegoat, Madrid has brought in Getafe coach and former Madrid player Bernd Schuster to man the hot seat. In the weeks afterwards, Madrid courted Kaka, Cesc Fabregas, and Xabi Alonso who all rejected the overtures.

But they didn’t do too badly having picked up striker Javier Saviola from Barcelona, defender Christophe Metzelder from Borussia Dortmund and central back Pepe from FC Porto. The latter two will help plug the hole vacated by longtime backline stud Roberto Carlos who is now with Turkish club Fenerbahce. And there’s the return of forward Roberto Soldado who was on loan to Osasuna last year. If Soldado has the kind of year he had with Osasuna where he scored 11 goals, he will provide plenty of relief for Ruud Van Nistelrooy who enjoyed a rebirth of sorts at Madrid. The last of their high-profile pick-ups is Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder brought in from Ajax Amsterdam where he scored 57 goals in 187 matches. He’ll be providing relief for Emerson, Guti, and Fernando Gago.


Barcelona on the other hand swiftly addressed its lapses on defense by bringing in midfielder Yaya Toure from Monaco and defenders Gabriel Milito from Zaragoza and Eric Abidal from Lyon. And despite everyone wondering how on Earth Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o, and Thierry Henry will share one football between themselves, if you saw how they played so far in the off-season, Frank Rijkaard’s club will be very dangerous. Does Real Madrid have enough to challenge Barcelona? Yes they do, but look to the Catalan club to take back the title.

4. Can Bayern Munich return to the top of the Bundesliga?


One of Germany’s greatest footballers ever Rudi Voller was asked if current national team member Michael Ballack is one the fatherland’s greatest footballers. Voller who scored a lot of goals for his club and country didn’t miss a beat when he answered with a very excited “yes.” If that is so, then you know what the Bavarian club was missing last season when Vfb Stuttgart took the Bundesliga title (Bayern finished fourth in the league standings with a 18-6-10 record) and Munich didn’t even make the Champions League. Ballack’s new club on the other hand, Chelsea, won the FA and Carling Cups, finished second in the Premiere League and the semi-finals of the Champions League.

This off-season, club management decided that their stinginess cost the team so they went to the bank and spent L50 million on acquiring French attacking midfielder Franck Ribery from Marseille, and strikers Miroslav Klose (60 goals in three seasons) from Werder Bremen, and Italian Luca Toni (47 goals in three years) from Fiorentina. If anything, Ribery, who I thought would be moving to either the Premier League or the La Liga is a huge catch. He was easily one of the big stars to emerge from the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. His ability to mount an attack will make him a prized addition to Bayern.

The Bavarian side is also a reunion for its World Cup stars in Lukas Podolski, Miroslav Klose, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and goal keeping stud Oliver Kahn who is on his last legs. Klose, the Golden Boot winner of the last World Cup and Toni will be of huge help to Podolski who struggled in his first year with the club. Plus old reliables Willy Sagnol, Ze Roberto (who returns the Bayern after a year in Santos FC back in his homeland of Brazil), and Lucio.

Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld has been handed a powerful line-up and here’s where you hear that they’ll emerge as Bundesliga champions once more.

Monday, August 13, 2007

UAAP Notes

Is it just me or....
are the referees too biased for UST?
it's Jing Ruiz who is the head coach of Adamson not Bogs Adornado?
that missed last free throw during the FEU-Adamson game looked mighty suspicious? Is this to keep the points at a certain spread?
there are too many off court distractions this year that take away from the games?
DLSU no longer intimidates anyone?

Does the UAAP's technical committtee review game tapes with the referees after each and every game? The refs seem to make a lot of stupid and bone-headed calls. Are they even monitored?


Roll Call.........

The folks who shoot the games for us Blues.

Asian Fever

(from my Bleachers' Brew column in Business Mirror August 13, 2007)

Asian Fever
by rick olivares

At the corner of Peking and Hankow roads in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong is the towering four-story adidas store. There’s a massive billboard outside featuring Anfield icons Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, and John Arne Riise that asks, “Are you red enough?” The ground floor lobby is the showroom for new products and in the last few weeks, on prominent display are the 2007-08 season kits of English clubs Liverpool and Chelsea. Also on display are AC Milan, Ajax Amsterdam, Bayern Munich, and Newcastle United among others. Conspicuously missing is Spanish giant Real Madrid with its sponsor’s logo emblazoned in front. According to store employees, the adult sizes sold out almost as soon as they were put on the shelf a few weeks ago. The only available ones are kids’ sizes. But they should re-stock before the season gets underway they assure me.

A young Chinese lad is accompanied by his girlfriend. It’s his birthday and she purchases for him the three different home and away jerseys of Chelsea: the home blue and the road jerseys of white and the new neon yellow with black linings (each jersey costs HK $450). He ditches his office garb for the Chelsea blues; eyes gleaming from the new clothes and his feelings of stronger love for his girlfriend. Aww. L’amour.

At the foot of street leading up to the Ruinas De Sao Paulo in Macau, is a stall that sells knock-off kits of almost every conceivable football club in the world. The stall’s proprietor hardly speaks a word of English but he is able to communicate rather difficultly that the fakes sell like beef jerky (MOP – Macau Patacas -- $45) the hottest thing outside pancakes in this part of the world. Although most Chinese prefer the authentic jerseys, the knocks offs still have a market. His best seller – the Los Angeles Galaxy of the American Major League Soccer whose jerseys were an unknown commodity until it became David Beckham’s new home.

In Queensway in Singapore, it’s the season for the annual trek to this out-of-the-way mall that is a sports fan’s maven. They’ve got kits, kicks, gear, and audio-video stuff to turn your head into mush. The major sports brands of Nike, adidas, Reebok, Umbro, and Puma have long since discovered that subtle changes in the kit’s design such as inscribing the club’s name on the collar or a stitch such as the commemorative embroidery celebrating the 50th anniversary of FC Barcelona's Camp Nou will ensure that their millions of supporters at home and abroad will queue for the new merchandise that is worth billions. Said one executive of a popular sporting brand who refused to be identified, “Even during the off season, you have to look for ways for the fans to part with their cash.”

In Thailand, despite accusations that former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s amassed up to L1 billion, the self-confessed football fan was able to purchase the ownership of Manchester City for L18 million. As for the Thais, a Southeast Asian football power, there’s suddenly an interest in the club that has hovered around an unlucky 13th position in its six years in the Premiership. But whether Thais, angered by Shinawatra’s alleged corruption, will support the team or not, you know they’ll follow the club’s fortunes. More so now that also recently received another dose of publicity (good or bad depending on how people feel about its new manager) when they hired former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.

All across Asia, the chain of bookstores like Borders, Dymocks, and Newslink are stocked with as many as 10 different magazines that are dedicated to football. Even music stores like HMV and Hong Kong records make sure that they too have that football presence amidst their music and movie catalogues.

The new football season is a month or so away and while the clubs are on their annual pre-season world tours. Barcelona, featuring its fab four of Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o, Lionel Messi, and recent transferee Thierry Henry were in Japan just a few days ago playing the Yokohama Marinos (guess who the home crowd cheered for). One of their last few before repairing to Camp Nou for the preparations for their quest to regain the Spanish La Liga title that arch-rival Real Madrid won on the last playing day of the season.

Manchester United is arguably the most popular football club in the world with an estimated 75 million fans scattered across the globe. An astonishing 41 million of those supporters reside in Asia. Like the British, when the European clubs talk about expansion, it no longer means domestically but globally.

Upon entering the huge Giga Sports store in Pacific Place in Admiralty, Hong Kong, the store’s employees greet you in a novel way of salesmanship, “Hello. You came to the right place. We’ve got the new Manchester United kit (HK $459) and you know it’s going to look great on your person.” Ah, I already have Liverpool’s.

Lest you think that it’s all European clubs that dominate the merchandise market, Japanese star Shunsuke Nakamura’s (of Scottish team Celtic) national jersey competes with Chelsea’s Frank Lampard, Liverpool’s Gerrard, and Man U’s Wayne Rooney for the most saleable jersey.

The biggest sporting spectacle in Asia – the 2008 Beijing Olympics – began its countdown last August 8. As much as Olympic fever has gripped the world’s most populous country and its Special Administrative Regions in Hong Kong and Macau, the beautiful game has once more gripped these places as it has around the region. “Next year will be crazy,” says an employee of the adidas store in Tsim Sha Tsui. “There’s the European Cup and then there’s Beijing. Good for sports fans, right?” Good for the rest of the continent but how about the Philippines?

In the huge Sands casino in Macau, a man in his forties looks to be doing well in a baccarat table. He grins at the dealer, “I got my lucky charm with me.” The dealer looks quizzically back at him.

He says no more and simply smiles. Then I notice he’s wearing a Man U jersey.

Crimson Tide - UAAP Game 8 Ateneo 68 vs UE 73

Crimson Tide - UAAP Game 8 Ateneo 68 vs UE 73
Round Two UAAP Season 70
by Rick Olivares

August 12, 2007
Araneta Coliseum

This is what that loss does to us. We look deep into ourselves for answers.

The huge win against La Salle seems an awfully long time ago. The early promise of a 4-1 record has dissipated. Three straight losses have put a damper on the good vibes. And the season at a crossroads.

We went into our second round match against unbeaten UE with a feeling that we were going to be the first team to blemish their slate. After all, we were the only team to put the fear of God into them during the first round and lost by a whisker. This was the win that was going to right the ship.

Instead, we went home shuffling our feet, shaking our heads and nodding to one another; the pained look on our faces was all you needed to know about that gnawing in our guts. The two losses no matter how close they were have given UE the psychological advantage. They can close out games leaving us to wonder if we’ll ever stop shooting ourselves in the foot.

It has been said that playing for the Blue Eagles is a labor of love. Well, rooting for the Blue Eagles is an exercise in pain and suffering. UE has been title-less since 1985. Maybe they know our pain. The losing years of the 90’s have allowed schools like UST, FEU, and Letran to overhaul our cherished record of having the second-most most number of basketball crowns (the Red Warriors used to have the most).

You can’t say it’s just a game. These games, whether rightly or wrongly, partly define us, make our day, or even determine if we’ll be sociable after the match or not. Even they way we give back to the team is dependent on a winning program. There may no longer be moral victories but we can console ourselves that we don’t win at all costs.

Lest you think that we’re in the middle of a eulogy here, it’s not. We have six more games to go. At an even 4-4, we have six more games to play. If possible, we must win every game. Another loss complicates things. Going through the gauntlet of hungry and talented teams is no easy feat. But then again, things have never been easy for us.

At the end of the first round, the Blue Eagles were sixth in scoring at 72.1 points per game, but on the flipside, we gave back 71.4 points to our opponents.

We were second in rebounding with 49.6, third in assists with 15.1, seventh in steals with only 3.3, and fourth in blocked shots with 3.3.

And that’s not even the worst. We committed the most number of turnovers per game with 18.7, were dead last in fastbreak points with 8 per outing, and were last in converting foes’ garbage into gold with 9 a match.

With regards to free throws, we were third best. Unfortunately, that’s a misnomer for we tend to miss the crucial ones.

Case in point, with time down to 5:20 in the fourth quarter and UE up 67-63, Jai Reyes whipped a no-look pass to Ken Barracoso who was alone underneath the basket. Barracoso was fouled but missed two free throws.

With 4:33 left, UE was in penalty, Eric Salamat, who presided over the second quarter charge that boosted us to a 38-35 halftime lead, split his freebies to trim the lead down to 67-64. If the three free throws were made then it would have been a tied ball game.

After Red Warrior Mark Borboran hit a bank shot to re-up UE’s lead to 69-64, Ford Arao on the other end, fished for Hans Thiele’s fourth foul off an and-one. Making it 69-66. Arao promptly missed the free throw. Incredibly, we hauled down three straight offensive boards after that but failed to convert.

Given additional breathing room, UE point guard Marcy Arellano hit a difficult shot to give his team a 71-66 lead. After a couple of misses, Chris Tiu, who struggled with his shot once more, made two of three free throws to move slightly closer at 71-68. But UE persevered under pressure and rookie Paul Lee completed two more gift shots to ice the game for its final score of 73-68.

For the most part, Ateneo has owned the second and third quarters. But that’s no consolation. The games after all are won in the fourth quarter.

“We’re on a mission,” said UE Coach Dindo Pumaren before the game. “May mga nagsasabi na hindi convincing yung panalo namin sa Ateneo nung first round. So we’re looking at this a validation for our record and march to the Final Four.”

If you’re looking for answers as to why we’ve not been winning, we’ve gone through part of the numbers. But that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. In all four of our losses (even in the one-point victory against NU that could have also gone their way), the one missing factor has been Jai Reyes. Who would have thought that the under-sized guard would be vital to the team’s fortunes?

In the team’s wins, he had 11 against Adamson, 9 against UP, and 18 against DLSU.

In the four losses, he finished with 6 versus UE, 5 against FEU, 6 to UST, and 5 in the return bout against the Warriors.

In the close win against NU, Reyes finished with 5.

The junior guard not only quarterbacks, but his shooting can be lethal. When he’s on fire, he opens up the lane for his teardrops and drop passes. He was 1-for-8 from LaLa Land and 1-for-3 from two-point range. And he didn’t even have any free throw attempts.

The tide has clearly turned. The promise of a good season (and many smiling and happy dinners afterwards) has become deadly serious. We’re in a dogfight. With UE at 8-0, UST, DLSU and FEU tied at 5-3, we’re at fifth place 4-4 and shade ahead of NU which has the same slate. Adamson is at seventh place with a 1-7 record while UP brings up the rear with a shockingly poor 0-8 slate. Leaving out UE that makes five teams fighting for three slots. We’ve got our work cut out for us.

This is what a loss does to us. We look deep into ourselves for answers. In spite of this, the last time we looked, there’s still that One Big Fight for a Final Four berth.

Animo Ateneo!