The FIFA rating of the Philip-pine Azkals may have slipped this year to 135 in July (from 116 in April) but the big drop seemed not to have dampened the determination of the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) to bring the game to Ilocos Sur, of all places.
Vigan, the provincial capital, will have seen on Tuesday (July 25) probably its first-ever international friendly, which will have been between the Azkals and Perth Glory, a top club from Australia.
Perth Glory, which wound up fifth in last season’s A-League, is on a Philippine tour as part of its preparations for the new season.
The match presumably also will have been the first between a local team and a visiting foreign eleven to be held in Northern Luzon, which is known more for producing track and field runners (remember Hector Begeo from the Cordilleras who was a perennial Southeast Asian Games gold medalist in the 3000 meter steeplechase in the 1980s?).
It used to be Bacolod City only that comes to mind whenever the Azkals are paired against a rival, say, in the AFC Cup or the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, partly because this city in the Visayas boasts of the Panaad Stadium.
The stadium, site of a game between the Philippines and Mongolia a few years ago and a few other international matches later in the capital city of Negros Occidental, meets the standards as a venue for international football ties.
Not even Iloilo province itself has witnessed two national teams battling for international honors at what is regarded as the cradle of Philippine football.
With the match at Vigan, the city will have one-upped Barotac Nuevo in Iloilo in hosting an international (eat your heart out, Chieffy, sorry for making you feel bad!).
Chieffy Caligdong, FYI, is a former team captain of the Philippine Azkals and has done wonders for the surge in football in these parts.
Even if Iloilo “lost” to Ilocos Sur, it was still good news for Philippine football and the PFF must be supported if in the future it decides to hold an international friendly in Davao City (why not?).
Davao City, after all can take pride in producing the young (21) Daisuke Sato, a former Azkal, who is bringing his home-grown footballing skills to Romania.
It is also presumed that Chavit country has a football pitch in a football stadium that measure up to FIFA’s yardstick, or world football’s governing body will have not approved of the Azkals-Glory clash to be played there.
It does, in the President Quirino Stadium.
But then, other than the Azkals-Glory game itself, Vigan can attract people with its “other” credentials that are unrelated to sports.
The city is a UNESCO heritage site, for one.
And yes, there’s bagnet and longganisang Vigan.
May the best team win the game at the President Quirino Stadium, and the winner perhaps can splurge on these two delicacies after the game.