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.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Bleachers' Brew #349: Azkals anecdotes from Bangkok

This appears in the Monday December 3, 2012 edition of the Business Mirror.

Azkals Anecdotes from Bangkok
by rick olivares pics by mark ypon

While in Bangkok for the group stage competition of the 2012 Suzuki Cup, I spent hours and hours talking with players not only from the Philippines but also from other countries including the Asean Football Federation. I came away with a lot of material I wasn’t sure where to put. Before coming home to Manila, I felt that the bets way tell them was in anecdote form. This is the first batch.

Ed Sacapaño, goalkeeper
Eduard Sacapaño beamed from ear to ear. Several dozen Filipinos gathered around the team bus asking for photographs, autographs or any souvenir they could get their hands on. “Ed-die! Ed-die!” a few male fans chanted and the appreciative national goalkeeper who kept two clean sheets in three matches of the Group A play of the Suzuki Cup waved his hands in their direction.

A few days before the Myanmar clash, teammate Phil Younghusband remarked of his longtime teammate’s metamorphosis as one of the top goalkeepers of the tournament alongside Thailand’s Kawin Thamsatchanan, Singapore’s Mohamad Izwan, and Indonesia’s Endra Suprapto. “It’s amazing what confidence can do for a person,” glowed Younghusband about Sacapaño. “He’s fit in nicely even without Neil (Etheridge) and Roland (Muller). He’s made a lot of great plays for us that have even saved the team.”

When informed of Younghusband’s remarks, Sacapaño turned red uncomfortable with all the praise lavished his way. Chris Greatwich who was idling nearby kidded him about his instinctive save of Le Ten Tai’s volley where the Bacolod native threw up a hand to deflect the shot to the crossbar and out. “You have your eyes closed, Eddie!” teased Greatwich of the save.

With a smile, Sacapaño riposted: “If my eyes had been closed, it would have still been a save. But I had my eyes open and I knew what I had to do.”

In 2010 Suzuki Cup, Sacapaño’s first with the national team, he played caddy to Etheridge. “Masaya rin yun experience na yun. Para maging parte nung team ay karangalan para sa akin. Syempre, maganda rin makatulong ka at mabigyan ka ng chance para mapakita kung anong kaya mong gawin.”

Confidence. It’s amazing what it can do for a person.

Angel Guirado, midfielder, striker
When you look at Angel Guirado there are his distinctive features – his size and bulk, his long Tarzan-like hair that spawned his nickname, and that toothy and sometimes goofy smile.

He still struggles with his English and relies on his iPad’s translator to help him get by conversation-wise. “Don’t know what I do without this,” he points to the Apple product.

But on the pitch, the universal language of football takes over and the Fil-Spaniard from Malaga, Spain knows what to do.

Guirado admits that the last few months have left him a little bewildered. Just when he was getting used to life in the Philippines while playing for Global, he goes home to Spain to get married then changes time zones to India to play for Salgoacar in the 14-team I-League.

He is unsure how to judge the move that was brought about purely for financial reasons. “I’m get married and need to provide for my family,” is how he simply puts it.

The move to India, another English-speaking country is another puzzle. The local cuisine much to spicy for his tastes. “I miss my wife. I miss the Philippines,” he admits.

In this Suzuki Cup, Guirado has been used off the bench to devastating effect. While it takes him a while to warm up, he has been a game changer with his deceptive pace and his ability to zig and zag out of traffic. He admitted to not playing all that well in the first game but the second one saw him find his groove with several attempts at goal including that nifty assist to Chieffy Caligdong for the game winner.

Against Myanmar, he labored once more before he found himself with a couple of scoring chances. At the 3:28 mark of the five minutes of added time in the game, compatriot Carli de Murga stopped an Burmese attack and launched a long ball that saw Guirado marked by only one defender, Zaw Min Tun. Guirado was able to control the ball and it keep it ahead of him. “I run. Push myself to get it,” recalled the second striker of his late game effort. He was a stride ahead of Tun and that forced goalkeeper Kyaw Zin Phyo to come out and try to close the angle for the shot. But it was a sure left-footed finish that Guirado served up. And that goal firmly sent the Philippines to the semifinals.

After celebrating on the sidelines with teammates, Guirado was overcome with tears. “You think about this moment,” he later said of that moment. “To help the team, the country. To score in this tournament is a big dream for me.”

Unfortunately, there is a possibility that Guirado may not suit up for the team for the semifinals stage as his club due to a coaching change might not release him. “I told my coach (former Indian national player Peter Vales) that (playing with the national team and in the Suzuki Cup) this is important for me. But the new manager is not sure.”

Former English player Peter Booth just took over Salgaocar last November 18 from Vales. Booth was a recent Manila visitor where he received his FIFA A-License coaching certificate along with former Philippine national head coach Simon McMenemy. Both was also a coach of Phnom Penh Crown that also competed in the recent 2012 Singapore Cup along with the UFL’s very own Loyola Meralco Sparks.

Guirado will fly straight from Bangkok to Mumbai where he will meet up with his wife Roccio before going back to Salgaocar. “I hope I can play. This means a lot to me.”

As it does for the country.

Jason de Jong, midfielder
Jason de Jong stepped out of the Azkals’ team bus then went back inside the Supachalasai Stadium where the media was conducting an impromptu interview with national team manager Dan Palami.

“This is incredible,” he whispered. “We did it again.”

The Fil-Dutch player expressed satisfaction with his team’s achievement after beating Myanmar 2-0 for the first time in Philippine history and heading to the semifinals on a winning note.

Even when he sat for the Philippines’ opening match against Thailand, took it in stride and hoped that he would be given a chance to play. “The old me would have gotten angry,” he said with a smirk.

In his first two Suzuki Cups (2008 and 2010), De Jong gained a reputation as a hellion on boots; a yellow card waiting to be cautioned. Maybe even a flashpoint for a fight waiting to happen. Headstrong and willing to tackle hard, De Jong took the fight to the Indonesians in 2010 and paid with a yellow card during one particularly rough tackle.

It wasn’t only the Indonesians or other countries he clashed with. He would on occasion butt heads with teammates causing tense locker room confrontations. He did nothing to hide his bad boy nature until his recent return to the Philippines where he suited up for Stallion in the United Football League. A day after he arrived in Bangkok, De Jong took the time to reflect on his football career while resting in the room he shared with Demetrius Omphroy. “I had to change the way I look at the game, my attitude, my conditioning, my thinking, everything. I wasn’t sure about the direction I wanted to take and I wasn’t happy. Once I decided to change everything, it all fell into place.”

In the Philippines’ second game against Vietnam, De Jong’s strong defensive midfield play was also crucial in stopping the Red Warriors’ striker Le Cong Vinh who had zero scoring chances. The clamps applied by De Jong and the Philippines’ back four of Ray Jonsson, Rob Gier, Juani Guirado, and Dennis Cagara demoralized the Vietnamese coaching staff that they sat Vinh down in their do-or-die match against Thailand.

Against Myanmar, De Jong was a steadying influence in the Azkals’ game in the early minutes of the match when the White Angles threatened. At the reset, he found Phil Younghusband with a textbook perfect forward pass that led to a goal.

As his teammates made their way to the bus to leave for the hotel following the victory over Myanmar, De Jong watched from the safety of the Supalachasai Stadium lobby of the madness of Azkals-meeting-fans outside. He looked back at me then smiled before running out and slapping hands with the fans outside.

DCP photo by Anton Sheker
Dan Palami, national team manager
For over 90 minutes, Dan Palami felt a knot in his stomach. By no means was a one-goal lead safe. Following Phil Younghusband’s early second half strike, the Azkals have been unable to tack on another goal. In the meantime, as much as the Philippines’ defense remained staunch and resolute, the Burmese committed more players to the attack as they saw the precious minutes slipping away.

When Angel Guirado scored a second goal to propel the Philippines into the next round in winning fashion, only then did the knot go away for Palami. “I could finally breath,” he said after the match.

For the second tournament running, the Philippines advanced to the semifinals stage. That means three things: one, there’s at least two more matches to play including a home game; two, if the team gets really lucky, they could win this all; and three, the win over Myanmar proved that 2010 was no fluke.

If the team was just excited to soak in the achievement of going through the semifinals stage in 2010, this one was all about making history. “Yes, we proved that it was no fluke,” Palami said smiling. “Sometimes I have to pinch myself and ask if this is really happening.”

“These are the things you dream of – scoring game winning goals, winning trophies, and going up the rankings,” shared the national team manager over a late late dinner at the coffee shop of the Golden Tulip Hotel. “The reality is much better though.”

Even with the tournament not over as it shifted an even more competitive stage, Palami allowed himself a moment to celebrate. “This (the win and the advancing to the next stage) showed that we are not yet done writing history.”

1 comment:

  1. I think I'm happiest for Jason de Jong and Angel Guirado. I'm glad that they both found successful careers as a result of their experiences with the Azkals.