Please be patient with us. Not all spectators now crazy over the Azkals have Ph.D's in Football. Maybe some of them got up at 2am, hit a bar with some friends, brought along the little that they knew about Cote d'Ivoire or the Blue Samurai to watch matches from the recent World Cup. Effort, miniscule as it may sound, should count for something.
I sense a little hurt from football's local coterie -- I think I can hear them say, "Where were you guys before?" Now that the Azkals are hot, now that football is hot, the cool kids are jumping on the soccer bandwagon like it's the last bus headed for hip city. Everyone's frantically learning how to appreciate ball-control on the pitch, Googling "Yellow Card" and finding reasons to curse referees out loud.
The Azkals are now in the semis! And the bandwagon has gotten a whole lot bigger.
So it's a fad. Is that so bad? Would it hurt to have a national bandwagon rallying behind a team poised to rewrite Southeast Asian soccer history? If the Azkals aren't forcing some opposing coaches to sound like fools, they're emboldening other opposing coaches to recognize the truth; our team is for real. Of course, you guys knew that all along. Or at least had the unshakeable faith that the Azkals were legit contenders since day one.
If the rest of the country is a bit late to catch on, needing that 1-nil lead over Vietnam to even take notice, would it be more productive to give them the cold shoulder or welcome their new-found soccer-mania, no matter how fleeting it might be, with open arms? Isn't this what the Azkals have been working so hard for? A semblance of national recognition, a genuine feeling of national importance. Isn't this, the die-hard futboleros that you are, what you always hoped for too?
So the clique isn't such a clique anymore. Or maybe because of this, the clique becomes stronger than ever. But, really, teach the rest of this country about football love. It's what Pele would do. It's what the late Chris Monfort would do too. Help newbies differentiate a good challenge from a bad one. Share the magic of a brilliant cross. Then, hopefully, whatever happens in the Suzuki Cup, the entire Azkal experience becomes, not just some wild episode for Philippine sports, but a historic springboard for football's permanent relevance. MH
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