The Philippines Football League (PFL) entering the scene early this month breathed life to a sport not exactly dying in these parts, only that it had arguably lain dormant for lack of an internationally competitive national team to carry the country’s banner beyond Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in Manila and which the game’s admittedly few fans can rally behind.
A downside to the PFL’s formation, doubtlessly to promote futbol even among basketball-mad Filipinos, had surfaced a week before the Philippine Azkals take on China in a friendly on June 7, or six days before the national team flies to Dushanbe, Tajikistan for an AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Asian Cup Qualifiers match.
The problem is that many members of the Azkals like Amani Aguinaldo, Phil Younghusband, Patrick Deyto and Ronald Muller are scattered among the eight teams making up the PFL.
It has been exacerbated by the PFL clubs possibly not releasing the Azkals in their rosters in time for the friendly with the Chinese team (FIFA rank: 81 to the Philippines’ 127, as of May 2017).
Meaning, even the Philippine-based members of the national team who are playing for PFL squads can be deployed by, say, Ceres Negros FC or Kaya FC-Makati, only on June 5 because the last PFL playdates before the FIFA international break (June 5-13) will be on June 4.
Meanwhile, as have been the usual cases since the Philippines broke through the top tier of Asian football in 2010 in Vietnam during the then-Suzuki Cup, overseas-based Azkals arrive in the country a day or two before an international or a friendly.
The window of getting to know the weaknesses and strengths of Berlin-based or London-based Azkals is small, considering that, theoretically, they come intro a team that is formed only a day or two before an international or a friendly.
Edwin Gastanes, secretary-general of the Philippine Football Federation (PFF), whose brainchild the Philippines Football League was, this week said they will talk to the PFL clubs to see if it is possible for them to release the Azkals in their squads earlier than June 5.
To paraphrase Quezon, the loyalty to the country of the Azkals in the PFL ends where their loyalty to their PFL clubs begins.
In pre-Azkals days, Team China humiliated Team Philippines, 8-0, in 2000 during an AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers match.
Will history repeat itself with another loss to the Chinese eleven?
We hope not because the visitors are a beatable team but they have more money to burn, are taller and heftier and presumably much more motivated than the PFF, PFL and the Philippine Azkals combined.