• Yes, we’re hosting the Suzuki Cup

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    ROMY P. MARIÑAS

    ROMY P. MARIÑAS

    It’s a must for the Philippine Azkals to win its friendly with Kyrgyztan today at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.

    For one, the country’s national football team had lost two friendlies in the past few weeks to Bahrain and the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea.

    The Azkals, for another, needs the victory as a morale-booster for them, and for the Philippines as well, in their quest for a first-ever Suzuki Cup crown after being a semifinalist three times since this decade.

    They can’t be three-time unlucky, can they?

    Besides, the Azkals had beaten Kyrgyztan this year and in its home turf at that and it would be a big letdown if they did not repeat right here in Manila (a draw would still be unacceptable).

    The Suzuki Cup, staged every two years by the Asean Football Federation for member-countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is regarded as the region’s premier futbol tournament.

    The 2016 championships (the 11th edition), however, are not being drummed up despite the Philippines hosting all games of one group that is also composed of Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand.

    If these parts were Jakarta or Bangkok, then Manila would have been a sea of streamers and tarpaulins announcing at least that the Philippines is hosting Group A (Myanmar is the other venue for Group B matches) starting November 19.

    Also if these parts were the capital of Indonesia or Thailand, then the football stars of the Philippine or Singapore eleven would have been made by their respective football federations to do the rounds of the sports programs on TV or radio.

    It has been often said that the 12th member of a football team (just 11 players to a side) is the crowd of sports fans who support their national squad’s version of Ronaldo or Messi.

    That crowd will matter a lot in the group matches of this year’s Suzuki Cup, as it will a lot more in the knockout matches, that is, if the Philippines makes it past the qualifications.

    Add to the apparent lack of enthusiasm and pride (the 2016 tournament is evidently a recognition of the Philippines having come of age as a promising footballing nation, at least in Southeast Asia) the reported choice of venue for the preliminary games—the Philippine Sports Stadium (PSS) in faraway Bocaue, Bulacan, north of Manila.

    The stadium sits 25,000 people but we are doubtful if that same number of fans will be there to watch the Suzuki Cup.

    The equally internationally-accepted Rizal stadium is a 13,000 seater but even the most important matches of the Azkals held there are not watched by that same number of football fans.

    Bocaue, and no offense meant to its mayor who reportedly is very supportive of the Cup being held there, is way too unaffordable for the ordinary football fan who does not have a car or enough bus or jeepney fare to go to the PSS.

    From experience and after a game is over, you—Bekbek or Jengjeng—consider yourself stranded where the stadium is because PUVs (tricycles or jeepneys) will have called it a day.

    No problem for Kenneth Jefferson or Samantha Dominique, they can always tell the chauffeur to bring the yellow SUV and take them to or fetch them from Bocaue.

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