Aguilas’ day of reckoning
Aguilas’ day of reckoning
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - August 16, 2014 - 12:00am

The Philippine Aguilas, our national tackle football team, have been waiting for this day for months now, a chance to show their stuff before their countrymen for the first time. The Aguilas, the representatives from newly recognized national sports association American Tackle Football Association of the Philippines (ATFAP), take to the field locally for the first time against a formidable opponent, the Raiders from Western Australia.

“We have been planning this for the last six months, and it’s finally here,” says Dodi Palma, who heads the ATFAP. “We’re very thankful that the Raiders accommodated our invitation, and we look forward to playing them both here and on their home turf in 2015.”

Ironically, the Aguilas’ first taste of actual competition came in a World Cup qualifier against continental powerhouse Japan a few months ago. By a scheduling quirk, the international federation received the Philippines’ paperwork at the same time as Japan’s, and decided to pair the two in a semifinal match to determine Asia’s representative to Switzerland for 2015. The Aguilas scrambled to train and find sponsors, with the players mostly just paying their way to the host country. At the end of the day, it was an eye-opener of a learning experience for the Filipinos, who also saw the potential and possibilities for the sport.

Today’s match is the Philippine team’s first international friendly, so the team will be fielding its training pool to make sure everybody gets exposure. Their opponents are the core of the 2012 Australian national champion team, who are likewise helping the sport grow since the NFL established it but decided to concentrate on Europe, instead. In Australia, tackle football takes a backseat to soccer, rugby and rugby union, which has less contact and more sponsor support nevertheless, the level of competition has steadily risen, with many former players now coaching their younger counterparts.

Many of the Raiders have looked forward to their first visit to this part of the world, and have heard a lot about Filipino hospitality. Most of them asked for days off from work just to be able to play. At the press conference at Skippy’s Bar and Restaurant in Bonifacio Global City Wednesday, the Raiders met the Philippine sports press for the first time, Many of the players arrived Friday in time for their practice session before taking to the Emperador Stadium field at McKinley Hill for today’s match.

“Everybody has been great to us,” says Raiders running back Troy Rigby. “The people are friendly, the food is great, and we’re traveling well. Hopefully it won’t be too hot on the day of the game.”

Aside from Skippy’s, LBC Express lent its Ronda Pilipinas bus, allowing the visitors to tour the metropolis in style and air-conditioned comfort. During today’s game and Sunday’s open football clinic, Shakey’s will provide its “Shakey’s on Wheels,” a customized bus with a full working kitchen, to provide food for the players and sell pizza to spectators. Outback Steakhouse, which hosted a dinner for both teams Thursday, will provide snacks on Sunday. Amazing Playground sponsored the Aguilas’ uniforms. Other sponsors are Emperador Light, Resorts World, Remington Hotel, Aguila Glass and Deuter sports bags.

Though the Raiders are bigger and have been playing with and against each other longer, the Filipinos will have a couple of advantages. First, the Filipinos are used to the heat and humidity which surprised the visitors upon their arrival. The game will be played early afternoon, after all. Secondly, the visitors will be playing multiple positions, and will be therefore be more susceptible to fatigue. Nevertheless, it will be a great opportunity for Filipino fans to see real competitive tackle football live, especially if the Aguilas get any opportunities to run against the Raiders’ stonewall defense. ATFAP is trying to work out live streaming for the game so fans in Australia can watch.

On Sunday, both teams will be sharing their knowledge with the public through open clinics for both youth and adults. Any interested players just need to proceed to Emperador Stadium on Sunday to participate and have their pictures taken with the players.

After this weekend, the Aguilas will next host South Korea in February. The Koreans sent the Philippines an e-mail wishing them luck in their first international friendly. In August of next year, the Aguilas will travel to Australia for a return match with the Raiders. All of this is in the hope of building up to eventually beating Japan and earning a slot in the World Cup.

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