By Edward Lao, ABS-CBN News Europe Bureau
LONDON – Young Filipino-French goal-keeper Alphonse Areola is proud of the achievements of the Philippine national team, especially as he has been following the Azkals' progress since their rise to prominence in the 2010 Suzuki Cup.
Filipino-French goal-keeper Alphonse Areola. File photo. "I'm happy and proud of the Azkals because they have made rapid progression," said the 19-year-old Areola, who plays for Ligue 1 side Paris Saint-Germain.
"I used to play in courtyards in the Philippines with my family and friends, and nobody knew football. It was only basketball," he related.
"I used to tell my mother it was my dream to have a football team for the Philippines, and now it's happening."
Areola’s parents are both Filipinos but he was born and raised in Paris, and is playing for the French Under-19 team.
The Azkals field a large contingent of foreign-born or half-blooded Filipino players. Although they have undoubtedly contributed to the success of the team, their presence has also raised speculation and debates regarding their Filipino identity.
Before the AFC Challenge Cup last March, veteran GMA-7 anchor Arnold Clavio sparked an uproar when he accused some Azkals of only pretending to be Filipino. The tirade, which took place on their show 'Unang Hirit,' was during a discussion on the sexual harassment complaints filed against players Lexton Moy and Angel Guirado.
The topic of race came up anew on June 5, when the Philippines faced Indonesia in an international friendly in Manila. During the match, some Indonesian fans chanted 'Hindi Kayo Pilipino' (You are not Filipino) to members of the Azkals.
Areola admits he was shocked by the chants, but said it does not matter as long as the selected players are eligiible and that the Philippines continue to progress.
"I don't mind if players are mixed, half-Filipino, German, English," Areola said. "It doesn't cause a problem as long as they are part Filipino. They automatically have Filipino blood."
"For the Azkals to have a great team they need to have real players. It doesn't matter if they are half-Filipino as long as they have a good team," he added.
Areola is undecided about his footballing future, as he plays on the French youth team but has also caught the eye of Azkals management.
"There's a chance of going senior. But if I don't get a call, then I have to reconsider my options because of my age, and maybe play for the Philippines," he said.
Areola will be France's first choice-goalkeeper when they play in the Under-19 European Championships In Estonia in July.