By Nikka Garriga
PASIG CITY, METRO MANILA— With football’s increasing popularity locally, the Philippine Azkals are hoping more Filipino players would follow suit in representing the country in international tournaments.
Three teams from Luzon and Visayas are already vying for the prestigious PFF-Suzuki U23 National Cup, the local adaptation of the AFF Suzuki Cup contested by national football teams of Southeast Asia.
The Azkals have redefined the sport in the country after qualifying for the semifinals of the AFF Suzuki Cup 2010. The national team is currently seeded with other ASEAN nations for the Group Stage eliminations slated on November 24 to December 1 in Thailand and Malaysia.
“This [AFF Suzuki Cup] is where it all began. It is up to us to keep [the sport] going. . .We’re more than up to it. We want to show what we can do,” Azkals team captain Aly Borromeo said in a recent press conference.
The PFF Suzuki Cup has been breeding ground for local players who now form part of the national football team.
Among its notable standouts include Joshua Beloya, Neckson Leonora and Gerardo Villamayor, who represented the country in the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Indonesia last year.
The qualifying rounds, scheduled on February to May next year, will serve as a scouting venue for the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) to source and recruit new players in time for the 2013 SEA Games.
“The Azkals broke the stereotype of the Philippines being a ‘basketball’ country and showed the world just what Filipinos are capable of in the world of sports,” Suzuki Philippine President Satoshi Uchida said.
“We hope to inspire more and more able and athletic Filipinos to take up the sport,” he continued.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Sports Commission will be signing a 25-year agreement with the PFF for the use of the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila for local and international football matches.
The sports complex will be converted to an international standard artificial pitch using a $500,000 from FIFA’s Goal Project.
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