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Galaxy glows; Beckham and Co. dazzle fans

The Azkals and members of LA Galaxy are joined by young booters before the start of their goodwill match at the Rizal Memorial football field. JUN MENDOZA

MANILA, Philippines - It was a moonless and starless Saturday night but it was all dazzling and bright at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadim as the Los Angeles Galaxy battled the Philippine Azkals.

The final scoreline was Galaxy: 6, Azkals: 1. But that hardly mattered to some 9,000 spectators as they got to see English superstar David Beckham dazzle with nifty moves for a good 75 minutes.

He knocked down a volley at the 20th minute, opening up scoring. Crowd was momentarily quiet but immediately burst into loud cheers.

He displayed his dribbling and passing skills as the Galaxy showed Azkals how to set it from the midfield.

He wiggled free from diminutive but speedy Chieffy Caligdong to launch a cross from the right that was made good by Adam Cristman at the 62nd, stretching the lead to 4-1 for the Galaxy.

He had a few trips on the corner and a couple of free kicks, never consummated but nevertheless drawing shrieks each time.

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The 36-year-old Beckham was sent back to bench at the 75th, his immediate move was take off his long-sleeved white Herbalife Galaxy jersey and present it to boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao at the VIP section. Beside Pacman, Jinkee was giggling like a teenage girl.

“I was enjoying myself out there. It’s a great trip out here,” said Beckham.

The global icon himself admitted getting starstruck with the presence of Pacquiao, who arrived to cheers halfway through the first 45 minutes.

“I couldn’t wait to get off the field. I am a huge fan because he’s a talented man, such a good person. I saw him walk in I wanted to meet him, take a picture with him, it’s exciting,” Becks mused.

Cristman, who came in as sub, led scoring with two goals (62nd and 87th). Posting one goal each like Beckham were Irish star Robbie Keane, whose header practically swayed the game to the Galaxy’s favor two minutes into the second half, and Gregg Berhalter who scored on a penalty on the 81st for the final score.

Phil Younghusband, who had the privilege of getting an autographed jersey from his idol Beckham in the post match press conference, delivered the lone goal for Phl, a left foot shot that cut LA’s lead to 2-1 at the 41st.

Coaches of the opposing sides agreed that the Azkals played a solid first 45 minutes but simply disintegrated in the last against a superior, more experienced opponent.

The MLS Cup champ Galaxy was on the second stop of its Herbalife Asia Pacific Tour. They’re set to leave today for Australia for their final trip.

Meanwhile, LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, one of the most successful mentors in North American soccer history, said it is not impossible for a small football nation like the Philippines to grow and rise in the pecking order of the sport.

He cited the USA team, a squad he handled from 1996 to 2002, as an example of how one little fry can grow into a big fish in the beautiful game through hard work, coupled with grassroots level clubs and youth programs and continuous competitions against top flight sides.

“Like any top player around the world, just continue to work hard, take advantage of all the competition you have and take the challenges in a positive way,” Arena said when asked for his advice to the Phl Azkals.

Arena’s MLS Cup champion Galaxy crew headed by superstar David Beckham, were slated to play the Azkals in an exhibition game last night at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

“The game is important for the Philippines because if they compete and play well, they build their confidence and take the experience as player and as a team and hopefully move forward as a country,” he stated.

Competitive matches such as last night’s Dream Cup match is vital for an emerging country’s growth, the US National Soccer Hall of Famer stressed.

“I would think these kinds of games are important for an emerging country in soccer, these are opportunities that don’t happen that often and I think that’s a good opportunity for your team to take advantage of and try to grow individually and as a team,” Arena said.

It was during Arena’s term as USA coach that his country rose from 19th to fourth, his 71 total wins still standing as the most ever.

Asked to name which Asian countries impressed him during his time, he pointed to South Korea, which his team played in the 2002 World Cup, and two nations that continued to grow, North Korea and Japan. Among the smaller countries, he liked the way Thailand, Vietnam and India were improving during his tenure.

“This is the global sport and in the world of soccer, we say the world is shrinking because so many countries are now close to each other. One time the US was a very small country in soccer, now we’ve grown and hopefully, the Philippines can use that as example and grow the sport in the country,” said Arena.

Another key element is the establishment of top-notch local leagues, added Galaxy skipper Landon Donovan, the top scorer in the history of the US men’s national team with 46 goals since 2000.

“I’ve been a part of our league for 11 years now, and Bruce will say this as well, it’s vital to have a league that’s competitive and successful. For very long years, we didn’t have that; our players had to go to Europe but we didn’t have depth. Now we have a pool of constantly improving 40-60 players coming from the leagues,” said Donovan.

The American star, though, expressed belief Filipinos’ relatively small built might hamper their quest to break into big-time international football. Well, not if they’re cut out like one highly accomplished small man from Argentina.

“Unfortunately everyone’s getting bigger, faster, stronger. But then again, Lionel Messi is only 5’6 yet he is one of the best players in the world,” Donovan said.

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