Football, the most popular sport in South America and Europe, only has a small following in the Philippines.
Recently, however, the sport has captured the Pinoys' attention after our very own Azkals outscored defending champion Vietnam, 2-0, in the ongoing AFF Suzuki Cup last Sunday evening, December 5, at the My Dinh Stadium in Vietnam.
A QUICK BACKTRACK. According to the research of web blog TP Culture, which is maintained by a group of Filipino and Filipino-American students at the University of Southern California, our country "organized the first ever Asian international match," where we played against China in Manila and supposedly won the game with 2-1.
American sports took over after the Spanish regime ended.
Football got ressurected in the late '60s, when a Spanish doctor named Juan Cutilla "handled the national team as coach and other sports as trainer."
The Philippines had the chance then to join prestigious events, such as the "Merdeka Invitationals, Pesta Sukan, Indonesia's Anniversary Cup, and the President Park tournament," and beat Thailand, Singapore, and Korea in some games.
In 1975, PBA (Philippine Basketball Association) was born and took the spotlight away from football.
The Philippine football team was virtually unknown for the past 14 years in the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF), with the top soccer teams of the other South East Asian countries taking easy wins from our then inexperienced team.
TRIUMPHS. Our victory against the defending champions in their home turf, and in front of 40,000 people heavily favoring the Vietnam team, has made football a now-popular conversation piece in social networking sites and blogs.
Filipino-British Chris Greatwich scored the first goal for the Philippine team, while another Fil-Brit, Phil Younghusband, hushed the crowd for good with his solid goal.
Most Filipinos know Phil not as football player but as a model and former Celebrity Duets contestant. Five months ago, the 22-year old athlete told PEP (Philippine Entertainment Portal) in an interview (CLICK HERE to read related story) that he wants to be known "as an athlete," whose goal is to bring the team to FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association).
Back to the AFF, the Pinoy underdogs have grown aggressive even in their opening match against Singapore that ended with a draw (1-1).
The same thing happened during their match against Myanmar last night, December 8, with a 0-0 draw that catapulted the Philippines to the semi-finals.
A CHANCE TO PLAY AT HOME. Now, four teams are in the semis: the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Malaysia.
The Azkals will face Indonesia in a home-and-away series where the winner will play for the championship.
The Philippines is supposed to bring the game home to Panaad, Bacolod, and, for the first time in 14 years, will play in front of Pinoy home crowd.
But that may not be possible.
According to the Philippine National Football Team's official statement, which was posted by its media officer Rick Olivares in his Facebook account, the AFF deemed the Azkals homefield in Panaad is not up to the federation's requirements.
If ever, the game between the Pinoys and Indonesians will take place in a neutral venue.
The statement also mentioned that such decision was made "without consulting the national team management or even having the facilities inspected."
Here's the statement in full:
The Philippine National Men's Football Team would like to offer to every Filipino this great triumph achieved in the football fields of Vietnam.
In the 14-history of the Suzuki Cup, the Philippines only qualified twice in the biennial competition that is at once the most prestigious tournament in the Asean region.
To get through the final rounds competition in Vietnam, we played three qualifying matches Laos where we finished second to the host country to advance to Vietnam.
And for the first time, we have advanced to the semifinals where the Philippines will play Indonesia in a home and away series where the winner, determined through the aggregate goal score, will play for the championship.
As we drew 1-1 with mighty Singapore and beat the defending champions Vietnam on their home turf 2-nil with 40,000 people in the stands cheering them on, we got word of how you, our fellow Filipinos watched us, cheered us, and sent us messages of support.
Believe us when we say that it was fantastic to hear and see all of that considering how the sport has largely gone unnoticed back home. We hope that this will be the start of football taking its rightful place as a premier sport In the Philippines.
As we drew Myanmar in a scoreless affair that saw us finish second to Vietnam in our Group, we received word that the Asean Football Federation has deemed that our homefield of Panaad, Bacolod to not be up to the requirements of the AFF Suzuki Cup after consultations with PFF President Jose Mari Martinez and therefore our hard-fought "home game" will be played either in a neutral venue or at the homefield of the other semis winner.
We deplore this decision that was arrived at without consulting the national team management team or even having the facilities inspected. We believe that this is an opportunity to provide Filipinos with a chance to watch some world-class football action that will inspire our countrymen to take up the sport and break new ground for the Philippines.
Just as you were all on our side when we were playing in Vietnam, we ask that every Filipino and football fan out there to express this indignation with regard to this decision in every venue, fora, or media so that we may treat the country to Azkals football. We implore you to express yourself on twitter, facebook, messenger, and everywhere else.
After all, the home field game is rightfully ours.
The Philippine National Men's Football Team: Team Manager—Dan Palami, Head Coach—Simon McMenemy, Assistant Coaches—Edwin Cabalida, Edzel Bracamonte, Roland Piñero, Trainers—Wally Javier and Josef Malinay, Media Officer—Rick Olivares, and the players—Ian Araneta, Jerry Barbaso, Yanti Barsales, David Mark Basa, Joebel Bermejo, Alexander Borromeo, Emelio Caligdong, Christopher Camcam, Jason de Jong, Anton del Rosario, Neil Etheridge, Mark Ferrer, Roel Gener, Robert Gier, Christopher Greatwich, Peter Jaugan, Ray Jonsson, Nestor Margarse, Reymark Palmes, Kristopher Relucio, Eduard Sacapaño, James Younghusband, and Philip Younghusband.