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A bit of football and history

by JB Casares

  Paulino Alcantara

Spain’s victory in the recently concluded FIFA World Cup reminded me of one event in the history of the Philippines that is rarely discussed in our classrooms or even written in our history books – the Battle of La Naval.

Much like the Filipinos, the Dutch were once ruled by the Spaniards. This led them to begin a revolt in 1568 that lasted 80 years. In 1646, Spanish and Dutch forces fought in Philippine waters. The Dutch were trying to capture the Philippine Islands from the Spanish. With the help of a large Filipino contingent, two Spanish galleons engaged the Dutch armada consisting of eighteen ships. Though outnumbered, the Filipino-Spanish forces were not outfought. This caused the Dutch to abandon their attempt to invade the Philippines due to the heavy damages they sustained from the battle. It is a popular belief that the Blessed Virgin Mary had a hand in these series of unexpected victories against superior numbers.

Déjà vu

The heavily favoured Dutch National Team (they reached the finals with an unblemished record) might have felt a distinct sense of déjà vu when they lost in the finals of the World Cup against the underdog Spanish National Team. David Villa, who was recently acquired by Barcelona FC from Valencia FC for a fee of €40 million, led the entire team in goal scoring throughout the tournament, but it was Andres Iniesta, another Barcelona FC player, who scored the winning goal on the 116th minute of the 1-0 victory by the Spanish side.

Filipino connection to Barcelona FC

Eight players from the 2010 World Champions came from the Spanish Football Club, Barcelona FC. But did you know that one of Barcelona FC’s early football stars was a Filipino? Yes, you read it right. Born in 1896 to a Spanish military officer and a Filipina mother in Iloilo, Philippines, Paulino Alcantara is widely regarded as the first Filipino and Asian player to play for a European club.

Alcantara moved to Spain at the young age of 14 to play for FC Galeno. He was later discovered and recruited to play for Barcelona FC by the club’s founder Joan Gamper. On February 25, 1912, at the age of 15, he scored the first three goals in his debut for Barcelona in the Catalan Football Championships. His performance in the 9-0 victory against Catala SC, made him the youngest player to play or score for the club. He went on to set an unprecedented record of 357 goals in 357 matches – a feat that remains unparalleled in the club’s history.

When Alcantara returned to the Philippines in 1916, Barcelona failed to win championships in his absence. In the Philippines, Alcantara played for the Bohemian Sporting Club and helped them win two Philippine Championships. He represented the Philippines in the 1917 Far Eastern Championship Games in Tokyo and helped the Philippine national football team defeat the host nation 15 to 2.

During the 1920 Olympics, Alcantara was selected to represent Spain but he remained in the Philippines to finish his studies to become a medical doctor. He made his debut for Spain’s national team the following year, scoring both goals in a 2-0 victory against Belgium. He earned the nickname El Rompe Redes (the net breaker) when he ripped the net with a powerful kick 35 yards from the goal in a game against France. Between 1921 and 1923, Alcantara made five appearances and scored six goals for Spain. He hung up his jersey in 1927 at the age of 31.

The Battle of La Naval

State of Philippine Football

Considered the oldest in Asia, the Philippines’ national football team was established in 1907. However, despite their long association with the beautiful game, they have not had much success in international play since the 1940’s. During the period of the Commonwealth, basketball gained prominence at the expense of football. By 2006, the team was placed as low as 195th on the FIFA World Rankings. They are currently ranked 167th in the world and did not enter the qualifications for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Today most Filipinos prefer to play and watch basketball, even though it is a game that requires height, which is not a common trait among us. Instead, we should draw our inspiration from Paulino Alcantara and start playing football again. International Football stars like, Pele, Diego Maradona, Carlos Messi and David Villa have shown that you don’t need a lot of height to play good football. Besides, playing football is just like playing sipa.




JB Casares played varsity football for the Colegio de San Juan de Letran in the Philippine NCAA. He is now the assistant coach of the Under 11 Boys team of the Maples Soccer Club.


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