Why Pinoys cheer for France

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - July 5, 2018 - 12:00am

If there’s a FIFA World Cup team that most Filipino fans are cheering for, it has to be France. That’s because there’s a Filipino connection in Les Bleus with goalkeeper Alphonse Areola. 

“Every Filipino should be proud that we have a kababayan in the French national team and who has a dream for Philippine football,” wrote Star reader James Figueras in an email. Areola, 25, is the only rookie on the French squad and the team’s third goalkeeper. It’s his first call-up to the World Cup.

Once Areola steps on the pitch to play his first match for France, he’ll be ineligible to suit up for any other country. FIFA is strict in enforcing the one-country, one-lifetime rule. “At the moment, if you’ve played for a national team of one country, you can’t play for another,” said Philippine Football Federation president Nonong Araneta. If there’s a move to allow the transfer of players from one national team to another after establishing a three-year residency like in some sports like squash, Araneta said FIFA hasn’t approved it.

The PFF tried to recruit Areola for the Azkals in 2011 with team manager Dan Palami reaching out to bring him over to the country. But Areola, who was born in Paris, decided to try his luck with Les Bleus since he had played for France at every youth level. Areola was tapped for the French senior team for friendlies against Armenia and Denmark in 2015 but never got to play. He was again drafted in 2016 but an ankle sprain forced his withdrawal. Finally, he was named to the 23-man French team for the ongoing World Cup.

France, in its 15th World Cup appearance, battles Uruguay in the quarterfinals tomorrow with the winner advancing to the semifinals against the Brazil-Belgium survivor. A France-Brazil duel will recall memories of the Final in 1998 when France won, 3-0, to capture its first and only World Cup title on its home turf. So far, France has made it to two finals and five semifinals in the football extravaganza. It has qualified for the last five World Cups and is coming off a seventh place finish in 2014.

In the current World Cup, France went unbeaten in the group stage, beating Australia, 2-1 and Peru, 1-0 and figuring in a scoreless draw with Denmark. In the Round of 16, France edged Argentina, 4-3.

The 6-5 Areola’s parents are full-blooded Filipinos who migrated to France as overseas workers employed by a wealth French couple. He started playing football at six and was sent to a football camp by his parents’ employer along with the employer’s son. In a 2012 report, Areola was quoted as saying he used to play in courtyards in the Philippines “with my family and friends and nobody knew football, only basketball.” He added, “I used to tell my mother it was my dream to have a football team in the Philippines and now it’s happening.” Although Areola isn’t playing for the Philippines, he’s known to be a Filipino and proud of it. Unfortunately, one football website mistakenly identified Areola as a Frenchman of African descent.

When Areola was 15, he enrolled at the Clairefontaine Football Academy then after a year, signed a contract with Paris Saint-Germain. He was loaned to clubs in France and Spain and in 2015, drew raves for his performance with Villarreal in La Liga. Starring for Villarreal, Areola did not surrender a goal in 37 matches and set a new club record of blanking opponents in 620 consecutive minutes. Last year, Areola was back with Paris Saint-Germain.

Voted Eurosport’s Revelation of the Year in 2014 and the UEFA Champions League Breakthrough awardee in 2016, Areola earns a salary of $2.4 Million a year and his net worth was estimated to be $11.78 Million. In 2014, he married long-time Filipina-Lebanese girlfriend Marrion. The couple has two daughters Ayleen-Grace, 3, and Aymma-Lyse, 1.

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