Whatever the outcome of Tuesday’s supposedly make-or-break game between the Philippine Azkals and the Indonesian eleven at the Philippine Sports Stadium (PSS) in Bocaue, Bulacan, the sad truth is that the Group A matches of the 2016 Suzuki Cup hosted by the country are watched by only a few thousands.
The Azkals’ first match against Singapore last Saturday, for instance, saw only a reported 4,339 fans at the 20,000-seater stadium.
Organizer Philippine Football Federation (PFF) should hang itself in shame for the sorry debacle.
In contrast, the Group B matches hosted by Myanmar held also on Saturday in Yangon were cheered or jeered (depending on which team you bet your money on) by thousands, as apparently indicated by video footage from various online sources.
Philippine Azkals coach Thomas Dooley blamed lack of fan support and lack of fire among the local players for the uninspiring 0-0 draw against the visitors, who had been reduced to 10 men at that.
More than crowd support, what really matters is determination of the Azkals to do better than being only semifinalists for the fourth time in this year’s edition of what is regarded as Southeast Asia’s premier football tournament.
They have to cast away the thought that they can’t do it without the services of Javier Patino and Daisuke Sato, who were unable to secure release from their foreign clubs in China and Romania, respectively.
Also, they should banish the idea that they are not good enough to be the best in the region, with or without the fans in their thousands in the stands.
Some international clashes are held behind closed doors and, barring monumental upsets, the better team usually emerges as the winner.
Crowd support is nothing more but a crutch that gives players and coaches something to blame if results do not favor them.
But even the moral support that is said to fire up a team, the PFF miserably failed to muster.
Maybe because the PSS owned by the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) sits on a town inaccessible to car-less futbol fans.
Or the fans still find the general-admission ticket of P150 unaffordable, and the hoi polloi do not have the P55 bus fare to and from the stadium that the PFF thought would be enough to draw in the “12th man.”
The federation had fired blanks and it seemed not to have any clue that it did.
It can still make amends by bringing the last group game of the Philippines against Thailand to the FIFA-approved Rizal Memorial Football Stadium (RMFS) in Manila.
This stadium seats 12,000 (15,000, standing room) and, even if only half that number of fans troop there, it will still give the impression that football fever has gripped Metro Manila, at least.
If the PFF stuck with the Bocaue arena, then it can seek the help of the INC in filling up every seat there.
All it takes is a word from officials of the church to support Philippine football, and more than 20,000 of them can be expected to come over.
Besides, around the venerable RMFS, any football fan on a budget (trust me, they usually are), can buy fishballs and kekwek anytime.
At the Philippine Sports Stadium, hotdog on a stick can cost you half an arm and half a leg.