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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

El Khatib carries Al Riyadi to 76-73 over Mahram

El Khatib carries Al Riyadi to 76-73 over Mahram
by rick olivares

May 30, 2011
Philsports Arena, Pasig City

The road to the FIBA Asia Champions Challenge Cup goes through Iran. Iranian squads have won the last four titles (two by Saba Battery and two by Mahram) of the Champions Cup as well as two of the previous three West Asian Basketball Association (WABA) championships.

The one WABA title that didn’t go their way? That was this year when Al Riyadi Lebanon swept them in two straight in the semifinals before they pipped Al Jalaa in five for the championship trophy.

“We came here to win,” said Fadi El Khatib who made no bones of their mission here in Manila. “We didn’t come here to talk or tell stories. We came here to win.”

And true enough, the Lebanese sent a strong message to all the teams – and Mahram – that they mean business after beating the tournament favorites 76-73 in Group B action after they withstood a furious endgame rally.

In the past two years, Mahram swept the Beirut-based sporting club in all competitions including the Champions Cup. And that only fanned the flames of getting back at their rival.

“A basketball championship “Mahram and Al Riyadi?” said one Iranian supporter. “That’s like Manchester United and Liverpool,” he said with his voice rising in excitement. “It’s a tough rivalry. You know in the Middle East, we all want to do well in anything. And the championship is for bragging rights.”

The basketball seasons in the Middle East end around April every year and teams, exhausted from the long season, reload with reinforcements for the Champions Cup that seals the Treble (domestic, WABA, and FIBA).

This year, Mahram played an extra five matches and flew into Manila not sufficiently rested. Al Riyadi knew that and furthermore, they now had Loren Woods.

Last year, they had CJ Giles, now playing with Duhok Iraq. But they didn’t do squat against Woods. And two years ago, they had Nate Johnson and Chris Charles but they were simply overmatched by the hulking Priest Lauderdale and Jackson Vroman.

“Getting Woods was a crucial part of our strategy to win,” admitted Lebanese coach Fouad Abou Chakra after the match.

The former Arizona Wildcat who once played with Dwyane Wade in Miami and Kevin Garnett in Minnesota, isn’t a player who can pour in a lot of points or can do a 360° corkscrew dunk in the lane like Cheikh Samb, his replacement with Mahram did against Al Riyadi. But he is at 7’1” every bit as imposing and mobile inside the lane.

At tipoff, it was the rapidly improving Jean Abdelnour who held Iran at bay with his outside shooting. The 6’5” swingman who is in his second year with Al Riyadi after leading Lebanese clubs Ghazir and Bluestars in scoring, hit three triples in the first quarter and added a bucket off a slash inside to help his team to a 24-14 lead.

But it wasn’t all Abdelnour. He had plenty of help from former captain Ismail Amhmad who added 7 points while Iran’s Sammad Nikkhah Bahrami who scored eight points including a scoop layup over Woods.

The defending champions got untracked in the second period as Samb’s death defying dunk got Mahram and their supporters jumping up and down. “F*** that was great!” bellowed teammate Jaber Rouzbahani who at 7’4” is the only one that the 7’2” Samb looks up to.

Chris Williams threw down another over Fadi El Khatib to bring down Riyadi’s lead to 24-22.

With Williams and Samb leading the charge with 15 and 11 first half points respectively, Mahram seized the lead 39-37.

“We have to take the game inside,” instructed Chakra at the dugout.

At the resumption of the match, Riyadi retook the lead as Abdelnour picked up from where he left off while getting massive support from Woods and El Khatib whose titanic matchup with Bahrami was symbolic of this game.

The two both stand 6’6” and have represented their countries at the Olympics and the FIBA World Championships. Athletic and the lynchpin of their offense, the two have had this strong rivalry with the Iranian so far getting the better in international competition.

Matched up against one another for the game, El Khatib, who ironically is on loan from Champville after a couple of years with Al Riyadi, put up one over Bahrami as he scored Lebanon’s last eight points. The Iranian never scored after his last bucket – he finished with 18 points to El Khatib’s 25 – at the two minute mark.

Down 68-56 with 7:10 to play, Mahram’s last ditch rally saw them come to within a point 74-73 following a layup by point guard Mahdi Kamrani who had a miserable shooting day (3-13). But El Khatib was able to elicit a foul from Eslamieh Afagh that put him on the stripe for two freebies that hiked the margin to 76-73.

In Mahram’s final play, Woods, who engaged Samb in a block party inside the paint, rejected the Senegalese center’s desperation trey attempt at the buzzer to preserve the lead and more importantly, the win over their archrival.

“We were not able to stop Chris Williams from scoring,” said Chakra after the match as he noted that the American had 32 points but not much help outside of Bahrami. “It was important that we got Samb in foul trouble and that helped.”

“It’s a big win,” said El Khatib whose post-match demeanor did not change. “But we’re not here to talk. We’re here to win a championship.”

Al Riyadi Lebanon 76El Khatib 25, Abdelnour 15, Ismail Ahmed 14, Woods 10, Akl 9, El Turk 3, Kanaan 0.

Mahram Iran 73 Williams 32, Bahrami 18, Samb 9, Kamrani 7, Afagh 5, Kardoost 2, Nezafat 0, Davoudichegani 0, Sahakian 0.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Looking at the 2011 FIBA Asia Champions Challenge Cup

Looking at the 2011 FIBA Asia Champions Challenge Cup
by rick olivares

When the current lineup of Smart Gilas Pilipinas embarked on its current journey, it was at the FIBA Asia Champions Challenge Cup where they first made a name for themselves.

They were boys when they donned the national colors in Jakarta. During that time despite finishing fifth in the tournament, it was there where they unveiled what is now their trademark uptempo razzle dazzle game.

Three years later, that game is still on display albeit only half of the dozen players suiting up in the current edition of the Champions Cup are veterans from Jakarta. They too are parading a different reinforcement for the third straight year. And now they are men, older and wiser veterans who are contenders for the crown.

There are two truisms when it comes to international basketball – you must have several shooters to strafe from the outside (John Thompson’s folly circa 1988) and the game, for all the high-flyers who have stolen the show, still is a big man’s game.

There’s Mahram Iran with shooters like Mahdi Kamrani, Hamed Afagh, and Sammad Nikkah Bahrami and the imposing 7’1” Cheikh Samb, a former NBA player who only recently has begun to try the international circuit and tends the net as if he were playing volleyball.

Iran’s longtime West Asian nemesis Al Riyadi Lebanon has Omar El Turk to bomb from the outside and the 7’2” former University of Arizona Wildcat Loren Woods to patrol the lane.

ASU-Jordan has Sam Daghles, the San Diego, California point guard to go with the Rampage-look-alike Jameel Watkins who is a Philippine Basketball Association veteran to play center.

There’s Qatar with it a platoon of athletic big men who could shoot from the outside in Targuy Ngombo,  Ali Ali, Yasseen Musa, Mame Ndour, and Omar Salem to rotate.

The inability to hit that outside shot and its debilitating result is best seen with Duhok Iraq. When the Iraqis lost to Jordan in the opening match of the tournament, an exasperated CJ Giles said out loud, “C’mon! We keep missing from the outside. The least you could do is make your free throws.”

The Iraq Basketball Cup champions shot a measly 5-18 from three-point range and canned only 9-20 free throws.

With Smart Gilas mentored by a Serbian you know that he places a premium on outside artillery. Rajko Toroman has gunners in Jayvee Casio, Chris Tiu, and Dondon Hontiveros to light it up from the outside. If you have been watching the team for some time, it’s from the corners where the team doesn’t take too many shots. That used to be a staple play run to devastating effect with Dylan Ababou firing away from the pocket.

And should the shooters be off, Toroman has a trio of centers in the 6’9” Asi Taulava and the pair of 6’11” redwoods in Japeth Aguilar and Marcus Douthit.

While several teams have quicksilver players such as Iran’s Chris Williams (out of the University of Virginia, former NBA great Ralph Sampson’s alma mater) and Qatar’s Chauncey Leslie (from the University of Iowa), the Philippine team loves to step on the accelerator for those transition points. When they go running, gunning and skying in for a slam, they’re hard to stop.

When Taulava crashed into the A-board to save a possession (that helped turn the game into Gilas’ favor) against the KL Dragons, that was classic Gilas. They’re a team that leads in the unofficial stat of floor burns and court spills.

And that’s perfect for Mark Barroca who loves the Champions Cup. He was arguably the breakout star of the tournament three years ago and in the first two games of Gilas in this tournament, he is zigging, zagging, and embarrassing his guards. Ditto too with under-sized forward Mac Baracael who in my opinion should be the number one pick for this year’s PBA Draft.

As deep and talented as some teams are in the competition, the scheduling somewhat favors Smart Gilas. Most of the West Asian countries as just coming off their exhausting league competition and while reloading for the Champions Cup, have signed players who have not played with one another. Iraq and Malaysia are just two of those teams. “We’re battling jetlag and chemistry problems,” said Samaki Walker who is playing with Al Jalaa Syria.

“Tell me about it,” added Giles who rolled his eyes after their opening day loss to Al Riyadi. “I’m not getting the ball where I can use it.”

Obviously, not having a system to run has rendered Giles ineffective. He has only 6 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks in spite of playing the full 40 minutes. He rebounded in Iraq’s second match against Al Ittihad Saudi Arabia with 16 points, 14 boards and 1 block. He only got help from Earl Gray and Qutaiba Al-Doori who put up 22 and 10 points respectively.

Gilas are coming of a sterling run in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup that ended in the semifinals at the hands of Barangay Ginebra.

If ever, the composition of the team is just as important in competing in the Champions Cup. Depth is of great importance as well and teams that rely on their starting unit are asking for trouble. The Al Shabab Al Arabi-United Arab Emirates rely a lot of Rashed Al Zaabi and former Iona Gael Courtney Fields who despite being undersized is a very good and hardworking forward. In their two loses – to Al Riyadi and Mahram to open their Group A play in FIBA, they lost steam and obviously did not have the bench to compete.

Even this early, several teams are a cut above the rest. There are perennial favorites Mahram, Al Riyadi, ASU, Al Rayyan, and of course, Smart Gilas.

Whoa, Nelly. Those Middle Eastern guys can sure play basketball.

Remember the time when you talked about sports in the Middle East and that was pretty much all football? But now they have become regional basketball powerhouses.

Iran won the 2007 and 2009 FIBA Asia Championship – against China no less -- and they now have their first NBA player in Hammed Haddadi. They have Sammad Nikkah Bahrami who was also the first Iranian to play professional basketball in France with Cholet and Pau-Orthez.

There’s Lebanon’s Fadi El Khatib who was endorsed by none other than Michael Jordan who said that “Lebanon’s best player should be in the NBA.”

If El Khatib and Sam Daghles were just coming out of college now, I’m pretty sure that they’d be given a chance to play in the NBA. Nevertheless, it was nice to see Fadi get a warm welcome from the Filipino hoop fans at Philsports.

Their game has grown by leaps and bounds and this can only augur well for the sport. Now if FIBA will only allocate more seats to Asian teams to the Olympics…

The imports that I like include:
Mahram’s Cheikh Samb and Chris Williams
Watersports Kuala Lumpur Dragons’ Chris Ayer
Al Rayyan Qatar’s Chauncey Leslie
Al Shabab’s Courtney Fields

These guys can play in the PBA (if their height ceiling is allowed that is).

With Jordan's Sam Daghles.

With Al Jalaa's Samaki Walker.

With old bud CJ Giles who plays for Duhok.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Smart Gilas banks on fiery wind-up for 2nd win

Smart Gilas banks on fiery wind-up for 2nd win
story and marcio pic by rick olivares
asi and marcus morrison pics by mike yu

May 29, 2011
Philsports Arena, Pasig City

Faced with an unexpectedly tough foe, Smart Gilas Pilipinas found its spark during the early third quarter when they held the Kuala Lumpur Dragons to a solitary basket during a five-minute stretch to turn a 40-39 halftime deficit into a 95-64 rout.

Entering the match, the home team knew nothing about the opposition save for their Filipino head coach Ariel Vanguardia whose teams played physical and tough basketball. “We’re just going to stick to our game plan,” said Gilas head coach Rajko Toroman.

Unfortunately, the Malaysian team which made a smashing debut in the recent Asean Basketball League where they made the semifinals, stole a page from the Philippines’ playbook as former Loyola Marymount Lion Chris Ayer and University of Tampa Spartan Marcus Morrison led the way for the Dragons.

The Malaysians had more points from turnovers (5-2), inside the paint (12-8), second chances (2-0), and fastbreaks (2-0). “We wanted to limit their output which would favor us,” said Vanguardia. “When they made their adjustments – which was to get their uptempo game going – we could not counter.”

With Marcus Douthit saddled with three fouls and their offense sputtering, Gilas got a huge lift from Chris Lutz, Jayvee Casio, and Asi Taulava who led that third quarter surge.

Taulava typified the energetic play when he crashed into an advertising board while trying to save the ball. The longtime national team mainstay received got the bal back inside the paint to hit a fadeaway that got the Sunday crowd at the Philsports Arena rocking. By the time Lutz, the former Marshall University captain who scored nine huge points in the 16-4 run, went back to the bench with his third foul, the momentum had dramatically swung Gilas’ way.

While the Malaysians drew their scoring from Ayer (31 points) and Morrison (15 points), Smart Gilas featured a balanced scoring attack where all 12 players sent in by Rajko Toroman scored at least two points.

The Filipinos dumped 26 points in a huge third quarter while the Malaysians managed nine. “They sure play some beautiful basketball,” marveled Ayer after the match. Ayer cut a forlorn and solitary figure who gamely battling Gilas as the dreadlocked Morrison’s game took a massive dive as the crowd got under his skin following a taunting incident early in the first period. 

The game underscored Gilas’ depth and despite winning the battle of the boards (49-26) for the second straight match, the Filipinos only did their job against a smaller team.

Their next match is against Duhok Iraq; a team with a small lineup but one that features a familiar face in former reinforcement CJ Giles. Duhok has shown little chemistry and thus are in the cellar of Group A with a 0-2 record. The Iraqi team lost to Al Ittihad-Saudi Arabia 83-75 yesterday and to Applied Science University-Jordan 74-66 during the opening day last Saturday May 28, 2011.

Smart Gilas Pilipinas 95Tiu 11, Barroca 10, Casio 10, Hontiveros 10, Baracael 10, Lutz 10, Douthit 9, Lassiter 8, Aguilar 6, Ababou 5, Taulava 4, Ballesteros 2

Westsports Kuala Lumpur Dragons 64Ayer 34, Morrison 15, Kwaan 7, Batumalai 5, Oo1 2,Loh 2, Ng 2, Ho 0, Kuppusamy 0, Chin 0, Kamaruddin 0.

Bleachers' Brew #262 The game of life

This appears in the May 30, 2011 edition of the Business Mirror.

The game of life
by rick olivares

“Ano magbabago na ba kayo ng buhay?”

The entire van cracked up with laughter as Rudy del Rosario deadpanned his players from the P #262hilippine Homeless World Cup Team with a poker face. The team was entering the Bureau of Corrections in Muntinlupa City. The lads who are headed for Paris in August of this year to compete in the Homeless World Cup were playing a friendly against the Puzakals, a team of football playing inmates from the Medium Security Compound at Bilibid.

As the two teams lined up for the 11-a-side match, at the Sunken Garden of the New Bilibid Prison, the stark contrast between them was not lost on me. On one side, the HWC team is on a second lease of life so to speak. The boys are given the opportunity to be put in a program that will not only enable them to play the game but to represent the Philippines, continue their education, and find work once their playing days are done. On the other side, the Puzakals, who are incarcerated for 20 years and under for a variety of offenses including murder, robbery, kidnapping, drug pushing, and other crimes are put in a rehabilitation program to get back in the real world.

“Pagnatalo namin kayo, kami pupunta ng Paris,” jokes one Puzakal. There’s more laughter.

The composition of the Philippine Homeless World Cup Team is of boys who have runaway from home, are dirt poor as they literally live on the streets, or have been abandoned. In other nations, the definition of “homeless” can vary. It can be that someone sleeping in a friend’s couch is considered homeless.

Because of our Asian size, they aren’t physically imposing. Nevertheless, what they lack in height and strength they make up with their fighting heart. And in last year’s Homeless World Cup in Rio, Brazil, they won eight of 11 matches in the best showing yet.

“The Azkals are ranked 150-something in the world by FIFA,” further deadpans del Rosario. “The HWC team is 25th in the world in street soccer. The Puzakals are number one… in Munti.”

Archie Bueno, a former national team teammate of Del Rosario who once played for the University of Santo Tomas, loosely formed the Puzakals two years ago. The prison management welcomed the football program as a part of their rehabilitation program and they were formally organized a year later. Today the team has 21 players in its roster including a British national who is also serving time in a Philippine jail.

When an inmate enters prison, he is instantly hit with a tidal wave of negative emotions. Is this the end of the world? Tapos na ang buhay ko kasi mabubulok ako rito. Wala na akong pagasa.

Bueno, who is in for a variety of drug-related offenses, waxes sentimental in the midst of the football fever sweeping the Sunken Garden pitch. This is the second time he has been cut off from his comfort zone. The first time was when he left Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo to play in Manila. “Wala akong kilala,” he says suddenly growing pensive. “Ayun kung ano ano pinagagawa ko.”

Chris Araneta, one of the Puzakals is in for a variety of crimes. He comes  from a good family in Cebu but in the recklessness and utmost foolishness of youth, he got caught up in all sorts of wrongdoings; most of which belie his peaceful appearance. The moment he was locked in he felt his world cave in. “Kapag sinimulan niya ikwento buhay niya,” says a prison official about Araneta. “Iisipin mo, akala ko sa pelikula lang.”

“Ganyan talaga,” sums up Bueno. “Nasa huli ang pagsisi.”

His voice trails off. Life behind prison walls has been hard. He has been cut off from his loved ones and the simple things he used to take for granted such as going out at night with friends or even going to a movie. Even now when the Puzakals are playing football in a pitch with no walls, he is still boxed in. There are armed guards in every corner of the field.

I spoke with one guard. “So far wala pa naman sumubok tumakbo.” His automatic rifle is on safety but his finger is near the trigger.

All the members of the Puzakals have some footballing experience. “Para mas madali turuan,” says Bueno who once played striker but now is his team’s playmaker.

Education. Every one of the members of the Puzakals is in the prison’s education system.

Before they are accepted, the inmates have to go through screening. And then they have to renounce their loyalty to their respective jail gangs.

“The only gang I have here,” pronounces Dr. Resureccion Morales, Chief of the Training and Education Division of New Bilibid Prison, “is the educational system.”

All inmates are free to enroll in an education program very similar to the outside world. There’s basic all the way to secondary and tertiary. And when they graduate, it’s replete with the graduation ceremony down to the toga and diploma. The educational system is an affiliate of the University of Perpetual Help.

For Bueno, there is no more sacrosanct covenent inside jail than school and football. “Two things that I took completely for granted,” he laments in a mixture of English and Filipino. “Now I am graduated from college and I get to play football.”

In the match’s opening minutes, Bueno deftly lays a throughball for a teammate that is consummated with a goal. The speed is gone due to inactivity and the ravages of drugs and time. But the skill, it is still there for all to see. For two hours, he gets to reclaim a piece of his own life.

Note: The Homeless World Cup Team defeated the Puzakals 4-1.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

LeBron ditches Looney Tunes for Moron Mountain

At the FIBA Asia Champions Challenge Cup with media friends

This is a tradition we began several years ago where we always sit in front of the event wall for a photo op. Did it during the FIBA Asia Champions Challenge Cup of two years ago and here we are again. The folks covering the tournament in Manila. 

All that talk about kings, GOATs, and humble pie

I have to begin with this although it doesn’t have anything with what I am writing next – LeBron in a Liverpool FC jacket!!!


It could be fading memory but I don’t recalling that Magic Johnson was said to be the greatest basketball player ever. That’s despite of winning five NBA titles while leading the LA Lakers to nine NBA Finals appearances. I heard that GOAT tag on Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. When Michael Jordan began to win all those rings, he was right up there in the discussion. Kobe was later thrust in that debate and as much as I also root for Black Mamba, I believe that was eliminated from that sentence for his team losing in the finals of 2004 and “giving up” against Boston in 2008. That has been forgotten in the light of the last two titles for the Lakers. He may be in the same sentence as Jordan as one of the game’s greatest closers but that’s it right there.

So I am shocked that Scottie Pippen said this: “Michael Jordan is probably the greatest scorer to ever play in the game, but I may go as far to say LeBron James is probably the greatest player to ever play the game.”

He is right in the first phrase – Jordan probably being the greatest scorer – because that rightfully goes to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain as they really put up tons of points. As for the greatest player – I’d put Bill Russell in that hat along with Jordan. But trying to be objective about James, he sure is some specimen – an incredible blend of height, power, skills, and athleticism – but at this point, he cannot be anywhere in that same sentence. If athleticism is characterized by flying in the stratosphere and sweeping in for a death defying dunk then that eliminates Magic Johnson too. The Laker great was of the same height (and maybe a bit taller), but he played multiple positions. He even started at center in the Finals during his rookie year. And he played defense too (rebounds and steals are part of that and remember he was a triple double king). Anyone remember how he broke up a Portland play by tapping the ball to the opposite side of the court in the game’s final seconds and a Blazer (not sure if it was Terry Porter) desperately giving chase as time ran out.

LeBron might go on to break more records and all but let’s save that praise until his career his over. The ace of spades in this discussion is how many championships one has won while being a huge standout in all of those wins. If we don’t then we will have to include Robert Horry in all this talk.

And… this is me eating humble pie now – I am happy to see Bron in a LFC jacket but even the Reds will have to concede right now that we may have King Kenny back (hmm LBJ is called “King James’ as well so there’s the royalty connection in a Royal Wedding year) but the current king of English football is Manchester United. And I am wondering how John Henry feels about the United fans jeer of 19-18 (which sounds a lot like the New York Yankees' derisive chant against Boston Red Sox fans for quite some time until their World Cup wins in 2004 and 2007).

So back to NBA hoops, I think the talk right now should be (especially after this season) – not if LBJ is the GOAT because he may be the best in the game right now, but which team will form it’s own Big Three wing to challenge for an NBA title.

And on cue, New York it’s your turn to join this discussion next season.


photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Friday, May 27, 2011

Looking (with disgust) at the upcoming FIFA elections

Looking (with disgust) at the upcoming FIFA elections
by rick olivares with illustration from the pambazuka news

When I look at the current row between Sepp Blatter and Mohammed Bin Hammam, what comes to mind is that saying about the absence of honor among certain folk.

Once allies, they have conveniently turned against one another and the mudslinging is appalling. Apparently, a laundromat has been opened in Geneva and Kuala Lumpur to publicly wash and dry their dirty laundry. And in a highly suspicious if not a faux moment of clarity (in order to swing the minds of voters’ and the public) they have suddenly developed a sense of fair play.

Why only now? Because it’s election time again?

Hola, seƱor. We are bringing football to your side of the world. Oh, by the way, vote for me and I will see to it that you get to watch the next World Cup from a luxury suite while flying business class. We’ll introduce you to Pele and Zidane. That’s a photo op that looks good on your Facebook, eh? While were at it, we’ve got some leftover money from South Africa to put into your football association’s coffers. When you visit us in Geneva, you’ll stay in a luxurious chalet with a great view of the lake.

“Grease” is the word. Lay it down thick why don’t you?

To be FA president or a member of FIFA’s Executive Committee is like hitting the lotto.

For the longest time, pertinent issues such as instant replay, goal line technology, and match fixing were ignored. Now the FIFA leadership has put back on the discussion table for discussion and implementation.  

Wait a minute. Weren’t these the same people in charge when all these problems and controversies first reared their ugly heads? What did they do to address it at that time?

If these wise old men of FIFA believe they are defending the game then they are actually hurting it. They have grown too comfortable in their positions that they cling to for dear life. There must be mechanisms to prevent overstaying, indolent, and underachieving officials.

How about Hammam’s promise of increasing the Financial Assistance Plan? I figure it’s a euphemism for bribery. He pulled that stunt in the PFF Congress of three years ago to quell an ouster move of the former president, and well, the money never made the inflows. Furthermore, the situation got worse. I’d say he is just as much to blame for all the problems that came after that “gift” of his.

Oh, incidentally, eight members of the 24-man Executive Committee are under investigation for bribery and corruption.

While I like that the World Cup is rotated amongst the continents, it does however, open up the voting process to bribery and corruption. C’mon, all African nations will vote for South Africa, South American nations for Brazil, and Middle Eastern countries for Qatar. It’s ridiculous. If it is going to be truly a World Cup then they must increase the final slots for Asia and Africa. That is going to mean more to all than one country hosting the sports’ biggest event.

The situation of member associations mirrors the FIFA leadership – they are monoliths that are difficult to move. That attitude trickles down to the local associations where some have no program and where the leaders are difficult to dislodge. Why can there not be someone coming from left field to fix FIFA?

Are FA presidents now forced to choose between the lesser evil?

What comes to mind now is that saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Thursday, May 26, 2011

NCR, Iloilo win in U19 Cup

This appears in the Friday May 27, 2011 edition of the Business Mirror.

caption: NCR's Gino Clarino (younger brother of Ojay Clarino who plays for Ateneo High School) goes on the attack against Naga. NCR won 10-1.

NCR, Iloilo win in U19 Cup
by rick olivares & dodo bustamante

The National Capital Region continued to lead the way in the National Under-19 Football Cup at San Julio Realty Field in San Carlos City, Negros Occidental as they topped their division with a 10-1 rout of Naga-Camarines Sur last Wednesday, May 25.

In only the 3rd minute of the match, NCR’s Emmanuel Arre scored.  Although Naga's Sterling Witecombe answered eight minutes later with a strike of his own, the Manilans’ Alvin Obero immediately negated it.  The goal put NCR firmly in control as Antonio Celdran put his side on top with a close range blast in the 23rd minute. 

Obero received a pass from midfield to successfully add another point six minutes later.  Naga threatened once more following a perfect left cross by Witecombe found target man Robin Espena. The header unfortunately went straight to the NCR keeper. Halftime ended 5-1 in favor of the Manilans.

The second half saw the entry of NCR’s 6'5" center striker Reuben Saldua of CSB. The Marlon Maro coached squad renewed their attack that yielded positive results to fashion out the rout. Sebastian Gonzales, Paul Salenga (who cored a hat trick), and Saldua all combined for the final tally.

In the day’s other match, it was an exciting duel between Iloilo and North Cotabato entertained the soccer fans with a closely fought contest.  Iloilo, led by Kota Kinabalu Youth U14 player Joe Kim Lustro, struggled against the dominance of the Cotabato boys who maintained the battleground at midfield.  Before the end of the first half two successive strikes by North Cotabato striker were saved by the Ilonggo goalkeeper. 

Cotabato striker Billy Joe Jimenez slipped past Iloilo guards and out maneuvered the goalkeeper only to see his shot stopped at the goal line by an Iloilo defender.  With the field slippery because of rain, Jimenez was thrown out after a second cautionable offense as he pushed the Iloilo defender in attempt to maintain possession of the ball from a left flank drive in the 80th min.  Iloilo finally connected from 10 meters as Lustro struck just before final whistle with the Mindanao squad demoralized after being reduced to 10 men.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Toni Kukoc redux

Under-19 National Championship Day 5 recaps

NORFA gains semifinal date after beating Bukidnon pineapple growers 5-0.
NORFA returned to form and stepped on the Bukidnon FA pineapple province.   In quick passing fashion NORFA’s Eugene Elmido opened the tally marking in the 22nd min.  This was followed by Cebuano Prince Antony in the 30th min and again by Eugene Elmido on the 44th minute.  San Carlos striker Diomar Caruskay rounded out the first half score to 4-0. 

After the reset, Bukidnon found their game over the suddenly overconfident eastern Visayan boys as they had a couple of attempts on NORFA goalie Val Palmes.  

The final score was settled when right winger Lyndon Banaag tapped the ball to the waiting boots of Cebu import Dan Villarica who converted.  Final score was 5-0 earning the NORFA a semifinal date on Thursday against the Iloilo FA team. 

NCR A scores in final minute to beat Rizal FA
Rizal FA composed of players from San Beda put up a struggle against the bigger and older UAAP combine of DLSU and UE alongside players from Philippine Science.  UE's Nonie Arboleda, Phil Science’s Gabby Borja and youth national Geo Diamante carried the cudgels for NCR A until the game’s dying minute following a pass from DLSU's Al Bustamante that the former blasted to Rizal's FA net.  NCR A is second to NORFA in their division having the same points although edged out in goal differences.

U-19 reports from Tito Dodo Bustamante. Thanks!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How Bacolod became U-23 National Champions

This appears in the Thursday May 26, 2011 edition of the Business Mirror.

How Bacolod became U-23 National Champions
When the various football associations around the country get ready to compete in next year’s PFF Suzuki Under-23 National Cup, they might want to look at the Bacolod team’s blueprint for success. Story and photos by Rick Olivares

They arrived in shades, unsmiling at first then grinning with every recognized person in sight. They were very business-like. There was a sense of purpose to their stride. Were they not uniform in their tracksuits, they’d be mistaken for a battery of lawyers.

When they did smile, try if you can, to picture a shark smiling as it hurtles towards unsuspecting prey. That was how the coaching staff of the Negros Football Association appeared when they entered the Filomeno Cimafranca Field in Silliman University on the second day of the Visayas Regionals of the ongoing PFF Suzuki Under-23 National Cup.

Rome certainly wasn’t built in a day and so are these champions.

It was the 9th of April when Norman Fegidero Jr. of West Negros University, Ramon Janeo of the University of St. La Salle, and Carlo Torbela of the University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos received word that they were taking part in the PFF Suzuki Under-23 National Cup. The problem was the tournament was already underway.

With five days before the Visayas Regionals of which they were automatically seeded into, the three college coaches together with Ali Go, coach of Dynamic Builders FC, asked, “Is that enough time to prepare?”

In years past, that answer would have been a “no.” But now, the answer was a resounding “yes.”

When it comes to collegiate football in Negros Occidental, the three universities all enjoy a fierce and acrimonious rivalry. When a team representing the province was needed for a tournament, if the coach was from La Salle, the other two schools refused to lend their best players. And it was the same for the others.

Enter Ricky and Leo Rey Yanson. The brothers once played football for La Salle Bacolod during their high school years. Although they had hung up their boots, their love for the sport never waned. In spite of their many business ventures, they had previously managed the Bacolod Open Champion Team in 2006 and the runner-up in 2007. They also had two football fields constructed – the Villa Valderrama Field and the North Field in Talisay – with two more under way (one beside Robinson’s Place and the other at Barangay Bubog).

The brothers brokered a deal for a unified Negros team under one coach. Of the four head coaches, it was Fegidero who held the highest coaching license. And the others deferred to the West Negros coach who also had a sterling record as a player and former national coach. “It is no problem on our part,” recounted Janeo. “Coach Nonoy has the credentials.”

Fegidero Jr. once played striker for WNU and later UNO-R after a brief stint in Manila playing for Ateneo-Swift and teaching in the Ateneo Football Center (he was recruited by the late Chris Monfort) in between. He once formed a strike partnership with former Rudy del Rosario who is now coach of the Philippine Homeless World Cup Team. The two with others like Adolfo Alicante and Elmer Bedia led the Philippines to a semifinals appearance in the football competition of the1991 Southeast Asian Games football held in Manila. Fegidero also coached the Azkals in the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup but immediately stepped down citing too much interference from PFF Management and others not involved with the team.

Since that time, he has gone back to West Negros where he has built up a solid and winning program with the Mustangs. Fegidero’s love for the game brooked no compromise. He insisted on team discipline and an adherence to finishing one’s studies. He wasn’t averse to tossing players out of the lineup. Or even from their captaincy as evidenced when he installed Emelio “Chieffy” Caligdong as team captain for the national squad in 2008 when he thought that Aly Borromeo wasn’t up to the task.

As for the players, Go added, “It wasn’t that hard because the players had represented the Western Visayas at one time or another. They just had to learn the system.”

An attacking 3-4-3 system was installed. “We are not sacrificing our defense,” said Fegidero. “We just want to score a lot of goals.”

When the team was at home, they were quartered in a building formerly owned by the Yansons where they would eat, sleep, and bond together. "No one could go out without securing permission," said Janeo. "We wanted them focused on the games and not anything else." 

During the regionals, semifinals, and finals, they stayed in a hotel. Coaches were given specific duties that changed every now and then. The daily regimen from training to meals to rest was mapped out with Spartan efficiency.

John Robert Mendoza, Jose Emmanuel Diel, Jimmy Malaloan, Anton Tongson, J Baguioro, Ralph Layumas, Abelardo Solinas, and Aldrin Dolino were from La Salle while Lemuel Unabia, Janrick Soriano, Jake Morallo, Jovin Bedic, and Camelo Tacusalme were from West Negros. The contingent from UNO included Gino Palomo, Willy Mangubat, Jurex Replentes, and Michael Pacite.

“Mabilis kami nag-bond,” described Bedic of how quickly the team came together.

“Isa lang naman ang goal namin,” added Unabia, the 6’1” central back. “Kunin namin ang championship.”

While most players were very familiar with one another, the wild card was Beloya.

During practice in Panaad Stadium one afternoon, the coaching staff saw him playing with some of his friends and they were immediately impressed with his skills. They asked him to tryout for the team and the coaches became utterly convinced that he would be a worthy addition to the squad.

However on the second day of practice, Beloya did not show up.

“I couldn’t walk,” recounted the Fil-Am out of Switzerland who had gone back to his mother’s hometown of Bacolod just a few weeks before that fateful meeting in Panaad. “My muscles hurt all over because I was out of shape.”

The Olongapo-born Beloya grew up in the United States and later in Switzerland where he once played for FC Zurich. Undoubtedly, he was talented. “But we had to add some muscle to him,” said Janeo. “Meron siyang explosiveness. Kung na-train siya ng mabuti hindi natin alam kung ano pa ang kaya niyang gawin.”

Because of his unfamiliarity with his teammates there were some early misunderstandings. “Alam mo na -- Fil-Am kasi,” added Janeo. “Pero nung nakausap namin, he understood his role and also his teammates.”

Beloya became the breakout star of the tournament. Off the bench in Bacolod’s first two matches, he was soon inserted in the starting lineup where he flourished even more. He showed great range, exceptional quickness, and an ability to finish in and around the goal. By the tournament’s end, he was named Best Striker as he amassed an astonishing 15 goals in nine matches and was considered as an MVP candidate (it ultimately went to Dolino).

Fegidero’s team romped through the competition and only found themselves shut out of the tally sheet when they played Masbate to a scoreless draw in the group stages. They topped the Visayas Regionals and the Group Stages and beat Davao in the semis before setting a date with long-time nemesis Iloilo in the home-and-away finals. "We didn't expect to play this well," said Go. "I think it's just one of those things were everything just clicks together."

They previously clashed in the Visayas regionals – a bloody 1-nil battle won by Bacolod that at times resembled a gang war as tackles, elbows, and punches were intermittently thrown. "It was a typical Bacolod-Iloilo game," said Fegidero at that time.

As the two teams braced for a bruising finals battle, the acrimony spilled off the pitch.

Following a controversial 3-1 loss at the Central Philippine University football field in Jaro, Iloilo where the fulltime score of 1-1 was continued in extra periods, the home team filed a protest against the tournament officials who they accused of continuing the match. Bacolod countered by filing a protest against players who were added to the lineup when they had not seen any action throughout the tournament.

PFF officials initially reverted the outcome to 1-1 but as Bacolod threatened to walk out of the competition, Iloilo withdrew their protest and the game was played.

Team management and the coaching staff of Bacolod did their best to shield the players from the brewing controversy lest it affect their morale. Fegidero already had to contend with their power shortage in the second half of play and they didn't need any more distractions.

Bacolod had scored most of their goals in the first 45 minutes. Come the reset, they had displayed a frightening penchant for losing focus while their opponents began to play much better. In the group stages, they nearly drew with NCR while Masbate owned the second half. Against Dipolog, the Mindanao squad took it to them in the match’s final 30 minutes. Fortunately for them, Dipolog was without four of their best players.

Against Iloilo, Bacolod faded in the second half of their rivals’ home match. “We will address that,” promised Fegidero of the late meltdowns.

Hardly had the fans at Panaad Stadium warmed their seats when the game was over in the opening minutes. Following a brilliant Beloya strike from 30 yards out, Iloilo crumbled. They ceded four goals after 45 minutes. And by fulltime, it was a shocking 9-0. And the title, the first ever PFF Suzuki Under-23 National Cup, the first national football competition in years, was Bacolod’s.

During the victory celebration at Bar 21 along Lacson Street that continued until the wee hours of the morning, Fegidero and his coaching staff – sans their shades – sat, ate, and drank some beer. They smiled. Not the business-like manner in which they displayed at the start of the tournament. This one was of extreme satisfaction.

The victorious Negros team minutes before they received their U23 trophy at Panaad Stadium. And below, the coaching staff at Cimafranca Field in Dumaguete. I snapped this pic after they had beaten Iloilo 1-0 and it was also the birthday of their keeper John Robert Mendoza.

The Bacolod coaching staff: (not in order) Norman Fegidero Jr., Ali Go, Ramon Janeo, Carlo Torbela, Ronnie Tornila, Simon Huleza, Dave Javellana, Michael Casas, and Lyca Jochico.