Allow me to tell you a personal story on the AFF Suzuki Cup.
I had always dreamed of being able to follow my country through a football tournament, from the group stages to the knockout rounds, and most especially after the Philippines’ improbable run to the semi-finals in the 2010 Suzuki Cup.
The 2012 and 2014 editions provided the perfect opportunities to do just that, but life – and mostly work – prevented me from doing so.
While travel to Singapore and Vietnam respectively for the group stages of the past two editions aren’t the most taxing distance wise, being away for the greater part of a week will take its toll.
That was why, when it was announced that the Philippines would be hosting one of the group stages of the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup, this writer was beyond excited.
This was the perfect opportunity – three group stage games to support the Azkals at home, albeit at the Philippine Sports Stadium in far-flung Bocaue, Bulacan.
No need to book international airline tickets, no need to book hotels, and minimal need to file for leaves from the office.
If only more people shared this passion.
I hope many people realize the historical significance of this tournament to Philippine football. The AFF Suzuki Cup should have a very special spot in the hearts of Filipino sports fans, as this was where the Filipinos’ love for the beautiful game was rekindled.
Its effects are being felt today, and would be so for the foreseeable future.
The erstwhile fledgling United Football League burst into prominence, and for a while, on live primetime TV too.
Many football players’ dreams have been fulfilled. Hundreds of football-related jobs have been created and fans have regularly seen quality local football matches.
This is why fans must support the team in this year’s Suzuki Cup where, despite the lackluster promotion of the tournament by the many parties involved, the Philippines actually has more than a decent shot of winning it all.
Some may say that the golden generation of Philippine football has passed, but I humbly beg to disagree.
The Azkals have the players more than capable of providing that winning performance, with Captain Phil Younghusband and former Bundesliga veteran Stephan Schrock leading the charge.
While being bracketed with defending champions Thailand, four-time champions Singapore and tricky Indonesia will not be the easiest of groups, the Azkals have nothing to fear.
Despite injuries to key individuals, notably to defender Simone Rota and winger Patrick Reichelt, and the uncertainty surrounding our back four – the Philippines have a great chance.
Global FC captain Misagh Bahadoran is in the form of his life, former A-Leaguer Iain Ramsay is available and Coach Thomas Dooley is spoilt for choice at the goalkeeping position with Roland Muller and Patrick Deyto staking their claim at the starting spot.
It is now hoped that more people get to support them, here at home.
So, from one football fan to another, I exhort the fans to make time and effort to support the team.
Be there in the stadium, watch on TV, and be active on social media.
The team needs its fans to be the proverbial 12th man on the field.
And it can also be argued, the football fans need the team to succeed as well.
Ryan Fenix is InterAksyon.com’s resident football analyst. His football column Rampaging Fullback appears exclusively on the site. He runs the football blog The Prawn Sandwich Brigade, covers football for Sports5, writes for ESPN FC, and serves as a FIFA Ballon d’Or juror. He is also a huge tennis fan. You can follow him on Twitter.
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