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.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Then and now: the Azkals reflect on the Suzuki Cup

Then and now: the Azkals reflect on the Suzuki Cup
by rick olivares

The way we were
The reporter is from Asta Arena television in Malaysia.

Along with his cameraman, he waited patiently for… the Philippine Men’s Football National Team.

Here we are on the 24th floor of the Golden Tulip Hotel where the Azkals are having lunch and a television crew from Malaysia wants to talk about the Azkals. And to think that their national team is playing in its home turf while hosting Indonesia, Laos, and Singapore.

“Neil Etheridge is not playing,” he asked me. “Who is going to be the goalkeeper?”

“Ed SacapaƱo,” I relate to him. And the Malaysian proceeds to ask a few more questions. Unable to answer everything, I help him interview national team coach Michael Weiss.

How different it is.

Boogie Margarse, is playing in his second Suzuki Cup and he remembers the press conference that preceded the last edition in Vietnam. “Yung prediction ng ibang team sa atin – 5-0.” He smiled at the memory and it is a smile of someone who pulled the rug from under everyone else after the Azkals re-wrote the script and plunged into football madness.

The Philippines has come a long way from its federation president telling the team to default its match to save some money to one expecting wins and grabbing some glory on the pitch.

National co-captain Chieffy Caligdong shakes his head at that memory: “Sabi ng dating president na wag na lang kami sumali tutal matatalo lang naman kami. Eh, kaya naman kami lumalaban kahit mahirap yung mga kundisyon ay for love of the game and of the country.”

Related another five-tournament veteran, Chris Greatwich, who recounted a similar experience: “Another federation president, told the team after a tournament that ‘the team exceeded all expectations’ because they were expecting us to lose six-nil, seven nil, and not the usual 10-0, 13-1, or 15-0 score lines. Mind you it wasn’t a malicious statement. A 5-0 loss is still a massive upgrade over a 13-1 defeat.”

Phil Younghusband told of his first time to suit up for the national team: The federation president said that they had spent a lot of money to bring the Fil-foreigners in so hopefully we do not lose by the score of 10-0 or 12-0.”

Revisiting the old battlefield
The last time the Philippine Men’s Football National Team was in Thailand, it was for the Asean Football Championships in 2007. The biennial regional football tournament was delayed (as it spilled over from 2006 to January 2007) and Tiger beer has stopped its sponsorship of the tournament.

The Philippines was bracketed with Malaysia and Thailand and the Azkals lost both matches 4-0. The final match was with Myanmar where the Philippines figured in a scoreless draw. The point accrued from the draw was one of the best results they got in the tournament.

Back during those days, opposing teams looked beyond playing the Philippines. “Hindi pa linalaro yung laban ay meron na silang prediction kung ano yung resulta,” recounted Caligdong.

Now it’s completely different. When the Azkals walk into the lobby or the floor where meals are served, the other teams now look at them with a mixture of curiosity and respect. “They think that they can maybe beat us,” added Jason de Jong, a three-year tournament veteran. “But they cannot say it’s going to be 5-0 or something worse.”

When the 2010 team was put together, the players knew they had a very good lineup. “We had the players and the talent. Ray (Jonsson) was the only new player we had but he blended in well. We just never got the time or the exposure for all of us to play together,” said Greatwich. “In a sense we overachieved.”

“Back then you knew who was going to start,” added Rob Gier. “Now because the national team has gotten better, gotten more exposure, and better resources, there are more players available and you have to fight for your spot.”

Indeed the pool of which Hans Michael Weiss will dip into is much deeper, more talented.

Find your way back
“I was taking my law classes during the 2010 Suzuki Cup,” revealed Jason Sabio who made his debut with the Azkals in the AFC Challenge Cup in Bacolod. “But when I saw what was happening, I knew that I had to be there (in the Philippines with the Azkals).

Demetrius Omphroy was also in college at the time of the 2010 Suzuki Cup and he admits to not really knowing of the team’s feat in the tournament. “I learned of it eventually and when the opportunity for me came down to go here, I did. This is something I knew I had to be a part of. This is something I will look back at years from now and say this was a great thing to do.”

“I didn’t know about the Azkals either,” sheepishly admitted Paul Mulders. “But everyone did afterwards.”

Patrick Reichelt researched online and devoured everything he could about the team including (he saw the videos that I posted on youtube from the Suzuki Cup). "This is a dream to be able to be a part of this experience and continue what the others have started," he gushed. "It's an honor."

Misagh Bahadoran waited for two years to play for the Suzuki Cup but a thigh injury has knocked him out of the lineup. “I waited two years for this,” he said. “This was my dream and now it’s not there. My work for two years from now begins.”

It isn’t only the newbies who are excited to be in Bangkok. Even the veterans are for various reasons.

Chieffy Caligdong was injured during the match against Singapore in 2010 and because of that, Roel Gener started on his side of the field. “Syempre, meron tayong gusting patunayan. Motivation din yan. At iba na rin ngayon kasi may respeto na rin yung mga ibang countries sa atin.”

Jason de Jong says he’s grown a lot since he made his debut with the national side in 2008. “I’m older now and hopefully, wiser. If I played the midfield before, now I have learned to play what is asked of me – centerback, right wing, wherever. Just to be on the pitch when the Suzuki Cup kicks off is going to be fulfilling for me. I hope to be able to contribute.”

Anto Gonzales, who played on the 2007 team is happy to be back. “I don’t know if I will be picked in the final lineup but just to be here is incredible.”

Chris Greatwich who played a crucial role in the success of 2010 is on the outside looking in. Weiss says that like the other players based abroad, he’s missed a lot of caps. But he could make it by the backdoor. “In 2010, Desmond Bulpin told me that I would not play in the Suzuki Cup. Simon McMenemy did not select me for the Long Teng Cup or the Suzuki Cup either. But three days before the competition started, I got a call from Neil Etheridge telling me that they were flying me down to Vietnam. You can say that what I go through is like what the team has gone through – no one thinks much of you and then you prove them wrong.”

“It’s just good to be back."


Here are my thoughts on the recent Suzuki Cup.


  1. Most enjoyable read about the Azkals I've ever had. More please...

  2. The former federation president was a pessimist. Poor fellow!

  3. Fun read sir ric . I still remember the night that I'm doing my MBA thesis , while the TV is on(on Star Sports I think) I was expecting the azkals to lose against vietnam , then twitter bomb erupted . its azkals who's leading by 1. haha. then the rest is history. I hope that there's a continuity in the football program in the country / grassrots , to support future team selection in 10-20 years