Thunderous cheers greeted a goal scored at the 72nd minute—and this was not in Brazil.
But even as the Philippines’ entry into the FIFA World Cup remains wishful thinking, the aforementioned goal broke the 1-1 tie from previous editions of the Clear Dream Match, with James Younghusband’s team beating brother Phil’s, with finality.
When the dust settled at the University of Makati football grounds, though, the real winner was Philippine football. With six amateur players completing the two teams’ respective lineups, the exhibition match showed that the sport will have fresh legs to stand on.
Francisco Jose Primo Santos, 20, was one of the amateurs at the June 7 game chosen from 32 aspirants from all over the country who attended a three-day training at the first Clear Manchester United Football Camp. Tryouts were held in Manila, Cebu, Iloilo and Davao.
“I found out about it through one of my friends,” Santos said about the chance to play in the Dream Match. Representatives from event sponsor Clear shampoo also went to the University of the Philippines, where he played and won as Rookie of the Year at UAAP 76.
British living legends Paul Scholes, one of the best midfielders of his generation, and Andy Cole, the second highest goal scorer in the Premier League, played in the Dream Match. Cole joined Santos in Team James, while Scholes was with Team Phil.
Santos learned to play football at age 3, recalling that his mom introduced him to the game. “I used to play baseball as well but I chose football because I liked it better.”
He has five siblings who are all into football, too.
Will not stop playing
Despite the challenges Philippine football has been up against, Santos remains optimistic: “It is not the biggest sport in the Philippines… But in spite of the difficulties, like problems with fields or lack of events for football, I will not stop playing it.”
Daniel Bernan Gadia went to the Dream Match armed with the camp’s MVP award. The distinction added luster to his unusual journey into the sport.
Team James’ 18-year-old attacking midfielder said he got into football by accident inside a sports complex in Manila. “We had won a basketball league by default and were looking for a place to play, but the court was being used for futsal (indoor football),” Gadia recounted, adding that he and his friends tried playing it and had a good time.
But while his friends have moved on to other sports, Gadia, the son of a construction worker and a laundrywoman, stuck it out with football. Like his older siblings, he saw the game as a ticket to success.
His brother, like him, studies on a football varsity scholarship, and his sister played badminton in college.
“Football gave me a scholarship in grade six and a chance to play at the Palarong Pambansa,” said Gadia. It also enabled him to get a high school diploma and slots in last year’s Philippine U19 team at the Asian Football Confederation and Asean Football Federation championships.
Good in all aspects
He was at the Metro Manila tryouts at 5 a.m. “I learned that to be a professional football player, you have to be good in all aspects,” he said.
“I am very aggressive [on the field],” he admitted. The Dream Match taught him to think things over.
Santos, meanwhile, was not able to play at the match. “But I still got to train with them… I was still part of the team,” he clarified.
Asked to talk about Cole, his teammate, Santos said: “He is a team player, he didn’t dribble too much… He made sure that everyone was able to pass the ball around and enjoy the game.”
Added Santos: “One thing Cole asked us to remember was to always have fun. Never mind if we didn’t win.”
As far as advice to newbies is concerned, Santos said that its necessary to build confidence, because it’s hard to play well if you’re not psyched. “Always try to improve with practice, with games… and dream big.”
He hopes to make it to the Philippine team in a few years.
Gadia saw action at half-time, guarding Team Phil’s Scholes. “He told me that I was very pesky,” Gadia said, chuckling.
“Keep on doing bad things but within the rules of the game,” Scholes quipped. “You need hard work and sacrifice.”
Santos pointed out that Philippine football still has a long way to go, “but at least there’s something going on… There’s a chance for football to be the top sport in the Philippines.”
The Philippines is not in the World Cup in Sao Paulo, but as the Azkals seek to gain recognition in various tournaments, the amateurs are hanging on.
“There seems to be promise in football here,” Santos said. In the meantime, he thinks the World Cup is a toss-up between the Netherlands and Germany.