The Azkals: Why suddenly we love football?

By Lulu Reclusado-Nario

The girls may not want to admit it but surely, their sudden interest in football–or soccer as it is called in other parts of the world— was inflamed by the good-looking players of the Azkals, formally known as the Philippine National Football Team, including Younghusband brothers Phil and James.

Phil doesn’t seem to mind it one bit. “If they come to (our) games just to watch me take my shirt off or my brother, or anyone, if that’s an excuse for them to come and watch football, then so be it.”

Besides, there are worse things in life than screaming fangirls. And who’s got time to complain with all the blessings they’ve received following their impressive showing in late last year’s Suzuki Cup Asian Soccer Championships? The team gave defending champ Vietnam a resounding defeat, easily arousing the Filipinos’ sense of national pride–exactly what Manny Pacquiao does each time he fights.
Today, they have become heartthrobs and they are chased by fans like they are rock stars. They also have mall tours complete with autograph signing and photo-ops.
Get to know four members of the team.

Forward Phil

Philip James Placer Younghusband, 23, is the most popular among the Azkals. He has graced our television screens—he joined GMA-7’s Celebrity Duets a couple of years ago—as well as magazine covers. He also has a few endorsements to his name.

Phil plays forward for the team. Forwards are also known as attackers, offenders, or strikers and they are principally responsible for scoring goals. This Fil-Brit contributes a great deal of goals in every Philippine team game.

Born and bred in Middlesex, England, he has been playing football since he was a small boy. He joined the Philippine national team in 2005 and participated in the Southeast Asian Games held in the country that year.

From then on, there was no looking back for the passionate football player. He has even made Manila his home and England is now just a place to go to for a vacation.
A lot of Filipinas are definitely wishing Phil would be their young husband, but Phil has chosen to remain single. Of course, he has openly admitted he’s smitten with actress Angel Locsin and that they are in a ‘getting-to-know-you’ stage. But in a recent interview during a school fair in St. Paul College, Pasig, he declared, “Right now, football is our priority and our passion.”

For those Mrs. Younghusband wannabes, here is what he’s looking for in a dream girl, which he revealed in a recent interview with entertainment site Philippine Entertainment Portal: “Someone who can make me laugh, who can make me smile.” In the same interview, he also confessed being “very cheesy and romantic.”

Right Winger James

James Joseph Placer Younghusband, 24, is another charmer among the Azkals. He is Phil’s older brother and he, too, has his share of the limelight outside of football.

Recently, he and his brother were launched as brand ambassadors of Collezione C2, a clothing brand that popularized shirt designs featuring the Philippine map.
“He seems to enjoy the attention more than me,” says James of his brother.

Another thing he doesn’t have in common with his brother? His relationship status. James recently spilled that he’s taken, breaking the hearts of a lot of his fans.

Goalkeeper Neil

Neil Leonard Dula Etheridge, 21, started out as a reluctant member of the Azkals. He initially turned down an offer to play for the Philippine team when asked sometime in 2007. When asked again a year later, he finally said yes.

“It took me a long time to decide,” Neil said. “Obviously every boy’s dream is to play for England at the highest level, but I thought, why not play for the Philippines? It’s mom’s side of the family as well.”

Neil’s mom is a Filipina and hails from Tarlac.

The Fil-Brit is now enjoying himself being part of the team and as its goalkeeper. It flatters him that when they play, they have “the attention of the whole country.”
He is thankful for the publicity football is getting because the members hope that their sport can become a big sport in the country just like basketball and boxing.
He also doesn’t mind the attention the girls are giving him. He even created his own Twitter account just so he could interact with his fans.

He told GMA News recently what would make him ask a girl for a second date: “What catches my eye is all the things other guys want. But to get a second date, you have to be interesting. Not laying all your cards at once, not too superficial—just be yourself. It’s basically me enjoying myself with you.”

And yes, he admitted, he would date a fan.

Left Winger Chieffy

Emilio Asada Caligdong, 28, is an enlisted member of the Philippine Air Force. Nicknamed Chieffy, he is the team’s left winger and has been playing with the national team for the past 10 years.

For now, he is best remembered for that first goal he scored in the pre-qualifying match of the Asian Football Confederation against Mongolia in Bacolod in February. Also worth noting is when he made his debut in the 2004 Tiger Cup, the team achieved for the Philippines its first-ever victory in the ASEAN Football Championship.

Chieffy told newsmen after that game in Bacolod—which happens to be his hometown—that what he did is difficult to repeat. The team’s coach, Hans Michael Weiss, commented on this, saying, “Chieffy is a superb player; he just plays with a lot of heart.”

Concerning matters of the heart, Chieffy has unabashedly revealed that he has a big crush on young actress Angelica Panganiban. He was even quoted challenging her boyfriend, Derek Ramsay, for a one-on-one football, which the dashing actor and athlete recently accepted. Source