The Azkals evidently have given local football a big kick in the you-know-where from which it is not complaining.
Today, at least five broadsheets, including The Manila Times, every day devote at least a story or two and, even better, an entire page to the beautiful game.
This paper and another one that used to be dubbed as an alternative paper in its heyday cover international futbol—from Bundesliga to Serie A to Premier League and J-League.
Such coverage was unthinkable five or six years ago, that is before the Philippine National men’s football team—which got its name from a homegrown stray dog—made waves in two editions of the Suzuki Cup, downing Vietnam in 2010 and 2012.
The Azkals’ victories over the Vietnamese national eleven changed the football landscape here.
Suddenly, the game is covered live on local television, apparently jolting basketball fans who thought only PBA matches had the right to be featured on the small screen.
They thought wrong, because even if the Azkals seem to be in a slump at present, football is out to take a slice of the basketball audience and perhaps see the growth of a fan base enough to pack to the rafters the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in Manila or the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bulacan.
The apparent futbol fever has rubbed in on university players.
Not that schools in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), for example, began playing the game only yesterday.
On the contrary, San Beda College, a long-standing NCAA member-school, has a pedigreed football tradition, apart from basketball, of course.
The downside is that its rivals in the ongoing NCAA football season are reduced to helpless and hapless minnows, perhaps intimidated by the Red Lions even before a game starts.
In its first two games this month, San Beda opened its defense of the plum collegiate football title by mangling Emilio Aguinaldo College (EAC), 12-0, having earlier “killed” Mapua Institute of Technology (MIT), 17-0, in its first match.
While San Beda College head coach Christopher Pedimonte modestly downplayed the results of the two games, it would still appear that, when it comes to NCAA football, the Red Lions belong to a league all their own.
Picture yourself at the receiving end of those lopsided encounters, and you would be lying if you said that its okay to lose to a superior team, instead of admitting that you actually wanted to bury yourself in a deep hole out of embarrassment.
Remember, a regulation-time football match lasts 90 minutes and it is bad enough to trail your opponents 1-0 at half time, but to be bombarded with a dozen or more goals for over an hour is a shame.
Still, Emilio Aguinaldo and Mapua Institute were good sport and they deserve our respect despite the horrible beating.
Who knows, next season will be a better year for them?
To be fair, EAC and MIT as well as the other member-schools contesting the 2015 football crown—College of Saint Benilde, Arellano University, Lyceum of the Philippines and University of Perpetual Help System—have since their founding basketball-crazy.
It is too early, therefore, to judge their football programs on the basis of results of a two or three games.
Any participation in making football here as popular as it is wildly so in many other parts of the world would go a long way in inspiring the Azkals to win for flag and country even after the Younghusbands, the Schrocks and Ba¬ha¬¬do¬rans leave the game and the team.