A year ago, Philippine football got an awakening after the sport lurked in the dark for a very long time.
It was December 5, 2010 when the Azkals shocked the world defeating Southeast Asian giants Vietnam, 2-0, in the AFF Suzuki Cup. That victory allowed the men’s football team to advance to the semifinals for the first time ever in the tournament previously known as the Tiger Cup.
As the cliché goes, the rest is history.
The term Azkals became a household name. Football emerged as a mainstream sport. Anything related to the Azkals trended on Twitter. Players became celebrities.
The date was definitely not forgotten by fans. Last Monday, netizens celebrated that historic day by using #nationalazkalsday on their social network accounts.
Aly Borromeo wrote on his Twitter account @alybor11: “A year ago the beautiful game changed our lives! The rest is history! #nationalazkalsday”
A lot has happened after that fruitful day and even team manager Dan Palami, who played a major role in making Philippine football what it is today, could not believe the strides that the sport has reached.
“Last year, if someone told me that we will be playing against David Beckham, we will be playing against one of the top teams in Asia in Kuwait and we will qualify in the AFC Challenge Cup, we would have taken it as a grain of salt,” Palami said.
“Now, football’s significance has exceeded beyond the sport,” Palami added.
It became a domino effect.
In just a year, Philippine football saw Azkals reaching the second round of the World Cup qualifiers for the first time, the country hosting an international friendly in front of a packed house, and an Under-23 team making a return to the Southeast Asian Games.
The sport’s quick resurgence after that December 5 date reached an all-time high when Manila became one of the stops of a three-part Asia-Pacific tour of Beckham’s Los Angeles Galaxy, the Major League Soccer champion. The Azkals bowed to a much-stronger Galaxy team, 6-1, but gains in other aspects not just on the playing field were seen.
“We generated a lot of interest not only in Southeast Asia but in the whole world as the game was shown in the United States live through FOX Soccer Channel. This is indicative of what we can do in the field of sports tourism,” said Palami.
After a year, the next question is how Philippine football can sustain the unprecedented highs it has gained. Palami noted a few things that need to be addressed.
He said that one of the problems of the team, a perennial one, is not being able to have a complete line-up in their preparations for international competitions, like the coming 2012 AFC Challenge Cup, as foreign-born Azkals have commitments to their respective clubs.
“It is something that we have to haggle to their clubs so that they can play. I’ll go to Europe to talk to coaches and their managers to allow them to be released especially in the Challenge Cup. We need to have a good relationship and good rapport with their clubs. If we overcome that challenge of playing together, the chances of being a football power can be realized,” Palami said.
Palami also took noted the grassroots development program that is just beginning, something that the men’s and women’s teams need.
“At this point, we are in the stage of our grassroots program is just developing. I think we should see the fruits of the seeds we planted four to six years from now,” Palami said.
Still, Palami, who took it upon himself to fund the team during their days as an unknown entity, vowed to make the Azkals, and Philippine football in general, better in 2012 after the storied rise of the sport.
“I hope that we can continue the momentum in 2012 and see the true potential of the team,” said Palami.
Reuben Terrado is a veteran writer who covers various sports for InterAKTV. For more football discussion, follow him on Twitter.