THE Philippine men’s football team has always considered the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup as the Holy Grail, but the Azkals have also already set their sights on a bigger tournament two years from now — the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup.
The country is one of the four nations, along with Maldives, India, and Tajikistan, that are bidding to host the final stage of the prestigious competition, whose winner will earn a ticket to an even bigger tournament — the Asian Cup — in 2015.
And Philippine Football Federation president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta has expressed confidence in the country’s chance to win the hosting rights for 2014, to be known on November 28.
“So far naman sa mga sinasabi ng (officials) medyo okay naman ang chance natin. They have seen Rizal (Memorial Stadium), they’ve seen Panaad (Stadium), and they’ve seen the hotels in Bacolod and Manila," he said.
The former national booter added that when India hosted the biennial tournament in 2008, “only 500 spectators were watching” some games.
In contrast, Panaad has a 20,000 seating capacity, while Rizal has almost 13,000 and both venues have been packed when the Azkals play.
“Yung crowd dito mas marami ngayon ang nanonood eh. Magiging plus factor rin siguro sa atin yun at yung football popularity now,” Araneta said.
If the country wins the hosting bid, the Azkals would not have to go through the qualifying stage next year as they automatically get seeded to the final stage.
The Azkals had their best finish in the event, instituted in 2006, this year, when they ended up in third place, capped by a 4-3 win over Palestine last March in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Araneta said if the country fails in its bid, it will try to host the qualifiers instead.