FOR the Philippine Azkals, winning does not only translate of qualifying to the 2018 World Cup but also in further increasing football awareness in the country.
“We feel the pressure of winning not only to qualify (for the World Cup) but also for awareness of the sport in the country,” Azkals manager Dan Palami said.
“We help the sport by winning. The more popular football gets, the more kids play the sport. More players mean more support for the sport and hopefully, the national team,” he stressed.
Palami’s dream is to ignite a football passion in the Philippines and make the sport a national obsession similar to other countries.
He said he wants to produce homegrown talents who would inspire more young people to play football and propel the country’s pride.
“We also need to create a passionate fan base to fuel the sport,” he added.
To achieve this, Palami needed to walk the talk, thus his all-out support and unwavering commitment to the national football team, which is beginning to bear fruit.
Through his efforts and in partnership with other football officials, the Philippine Azkals have come a long way in their attempt to boost the country’s stock in the sport the last five years.
From struggling to even qualify for the group stages of the AFF Suzuki Cup, the Azkals have chalked up huge wins, including their first two victories in World Cup qualifiers.
And with another big game against Uzbekistan looming large, the Azkals are determined to put in a good show to once again raise the profile of the sport in the country.
Palami has been backing the team since the Long Teng Cup in Taiwan in January five years ago. Since then, the Azkals have chalked up one major achievement after another, reaching the semifinals of the AFF Suzuki Cup three times.
The Azkals also came within a whisker of playing in the AFC Asian Cup last year, losing out to Palestine in the Challenge Cup finals that served as the qualifier for the final spot in the tournament.
After impressive wins over Bahrain (2-1) and Yemen (2-0) in their first two outings in World Cup qualifiers, the Azkals also reached their highest FIFA ranking of 124 last July.
What has made the run even more remarkable has been the Azkals' performance. Showing confidence on the ball and improving their finishing, the team has have become an attacking threat more than ever.
A win against the Uzbeks on their scheduled Sept. 8 match at Philippine Sports Stadium could prove crucial in their bid to reach the third round.
“We need all the support we can get against Uzbekistan. We have to protect our homefield,” Palami said.
“They may have lost to North Korea, but we still think they are the strongest team in the group,” he added.
The Uzbeks fell to North Korea, 2-4, in their first game in Pyongyang last June. The win gave North Korea the top spot in the group with six points, ahead of the Azkals on goal difference.
The top team in the group will advance to the next round while the four best second-placed teams from among the eight groups in qualifying will also move on, while claiming a spot in the AFC Asian Cup in 2019.
“We can’t be complacent after our two wins,” Palami added.
Tickets for the Azkals vs. Uzbekistan at the Philippine Sports Stadium on September 8 are now available at www.ticketworld.com.ph. Tickets are at P531.80 for Price Zone 1, P331.14 for Price Zone 2 and P125.40 for Price Zone 3.