F Philippines’ darlings Azkals offered new homes - Powcast Sports

Philippines’ darlings Azkals offered new homes

The Marikina City government on Friday announced it would spruce up its Sports Center so that it would become the Philippine national football team’s training center and “the home of the Azkals.”

By Miko Morelos, Cedelf P. Tupas, Carla Gomez, Inquirer Visayas
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—If plans do not miscarry, the Azkals won’t be homeless anymore.

On top of that, the country’s newest sports darlings may end up having many foster parents.

The Marikina City government on Friday announced it would spruce up its Sports Center so that it would become the Philippine national football team’s training center and “the home of the Azkals.”

The Azkals caught the nation’s imagination late last year with sensational wins at the regional Suzuki Cup qualifying tournament, beating defending champion Vietnam in a group match before bowing to Indonesia in the knockout phase.

And the team did it without having a regular training ground at home to practice on.

Marikina Mayor Del de Guzman and Azkals manager Dan Palami last week discussed plans to convert the city’s sports field into the team’s training center, Marikina government information chief Paul Sison told reporters.

But the field would need some upgrading.

“The feedback we received from the team was that the field was not even,” Sison said.

He said the center was damaged during the onslaught of Tropical Storm “Ondoy” two years ago. Floodwater flowed through the race track and the pitch, destroying the grass and the field.

Rehabilitation costs

Palami has estimated that the local government would need about P4 million to rehabilitate the center’s football field and restore the pitch’s natural grass, Sison said.

Converting the pitch into artificial grass would cost about P16 million, Sison quoted the Azkals manager as saying.

Sison said the Marikina center could not be a likely venue for tournament matches since its stands could only accommodate 12,000 people, against the international standard of 30,000.

Having the Azkals settle in Marikina—also dubbed the country’s shoe capital—is part of the local government’s bid to attract investors, tourists and even new citizens, Sison said.

Why ‘Azkal’?

The Azkals team derived its name from a play on the Filipino term for stray dogs (asong kalye), or dogs without a home or without pedigree.

The name gained further currency with the increased popularity of the team following the inclusion of players of mixed Filipino and foreign parentage, including American, British, German and Dutch.

It was the fans themselves who suggested the name “Azkal” for the team, saying it stands for someone who beats all odds to win, transcending bloodlines.

Panaad stadium

In Bacolod City, plans are under way to expand the Panaad Sports Stadium so it can accommodate bigger crowds.

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri on Thursday said he would help the Negros Occidental provincial government get funds to expand the stadium, where the Azkals beat Mongolia on Wednesday in a qualifying tournament for the Asian Cup.

Zubiri said that to increase the seating capacity to 40,000 from the current 20,000, bleacher seats would have to be increased and the roofs adjusted.

The provincial government’s expansion plan would cost from P100 million to P150 million, he said.

Fund sources

Zubiri said the funds could come from private companies, like Smart Telecommunications, which had expressed interest in entering into a partnership with the province. Other possible sources would be the national government and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (Fifa), he said.

Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon said he was told by former Rep. Jose Cojuangco, Philippine Olympic Committee president, that the national government was willing to help expand the Panaad stadium and “make Negros Occidental the football capital of the Philippines.”

Zubiri called on President Aquino to direct the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) to allocate 5 percent of its gross income for sports development, instead of 5 percent of net income, at present.

Doing so would increase Pagcor’s allocation for sports to P1 billion annually from about P500 million.

The Azkals’ success has spurred support for the sport.

P80-M assistance

Smart Telecommunications is extending an P80-million assistance—spread over 10 years—to the Philippine Football Federation (PFF), aside from the P1 million it gave the Azkals for making the semifinals of the Suzuki Cup.

Manila Beer also gave a P250,000 incentive to the Azkals and proposed a three-year deal to support the team, including staging a four-nation international tournament in Manila in October. An insurance firm has agreed to give coverage to the team in case of injuries.

The football federations of Kuwait, Bahrain and Jordan last month released $100,000 to help the PFF as part of a five-year $500,000 grant.

The German Football Association has also pledged support for Philippine football with an aid package covering coaching programs, technical assistance and grassroots development.

The PFF is also renewing its partnership with the Japan Football Association for grassroots development and training camps for the national team, aside from an annual assistance of $20,000 a year.

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