A group stage of the 2016 Suzuki Cup, after all, will be held here in Manila and Bocaue, Bulacan.
Group A will be hosted by Myanmar and Group B by the Philippines at the Philippine Sports Stadium (PSS) in Bocaue as the main venue and at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium (RMFS) as the secondary one.
Credit should be given to the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) for making a successful appeal to the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Football Federation (AFF) for the country’s reinstatement as co-hosts of the regions’ premier football tournament.
Earlier, the AFF decided not to award the hosting rights to Manila, deeming the proposed venues as too small (RMFS) for international football matches and the PSS as a long shot, with the PFF failing to show availability contract for the arena owned by the religious group Iglesia ni Cristo for the tournament from November 19 to December 17 this year.
With a seating capacity of a maximum of 15,000, the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium is decidedly non-acceptable.
The AFF bent over backward to accommodate the Philippine appeal apparently because it has recognized the growing popularity of football in the Philippines, with business firms initiating programs for the sport as part of their corporate social responsibility or CSR.
Besides, the Philippines has ceased to be a saling-pusa in the Suzuki Cup, which marks its 11th edition this year.
In 2010, the country started to give notice that it was not to be the laughable minnow of a team anymore by making it to the semifinals for the first time, the entry into that stage highlighted by the national team Philippine Azkals beating powerhouse and defending champion Vietnam, 2-0, for the first time, ever.
To prove that the victory against the Vietnamese was not tsamba, the Azkals again defeated the best from Hanoi, 1-0, to barge into the Round of 4 for the second time in 2012.
The Philippines would cruise into the semifinals in 2014 for the third time, not at Vietnam’s expense though, in 2014.
This time around, hopes are high that the country hosting the 2016 Suzuki Cup is a huge home court advantage that may propel it to the championship game.
That partly depends on the luck of the draw and, of course, the conditioning and state mind of the Philippine Azkals, whose non-bearing, remaining games against Uzbekistan and North Korea for the FIFA World Cup two years from now would tell on their readiness to take on the best that the Asean can offer.
The match against the Uzbeks will be played in Tashkent and that against the Koreans will be held at the RMFS, both this week.
If they won against the Philippines, they would most likely qualify for the next group stage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
For now, it seems that being a hospitable and efficient host will be enough to boost football this side of the Asean.