By Abac Cordero
Thanks to the Azkals, Philippine football is on the rise.
From where it stood in 2009, at No. 167 in the FIFA world rankings, the Philippines is now at No. 151 among 203 member countries.
It has moved ahead of countries like Cambodia, Turkmenistan, Myanmar, Maldives, Lebanon, Laos, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mongolia and Afghanistan.
In the coming World Cup qualifiers in June and July, the Philippines may end up facing Cambodia, ranked 154th, and Afghanistan, way behind at 194th.
The Philippines, according to Azkals team manager Dan Palami, should be favored to advance at the expense of these two teams.
The Philippines lags behind its neighbors like Chinese Taipei (147), Singapore (139), Malaysia (138), Vietnam (134), Indonesia (129) and Thailand (118).
But what’s important is that the Philippines is on the rise.
In March last year, again according to the FIFA rankings, the Philippines was at 167, then hit a lot of 170 in April. Then everything turned sweet for the Azkals.
At 151, the Philippines is at its best FIFA ranking ever, and the Philippine Football Federation, now under Mariano “Nonong” Araneta, had never seen better days.
Yet, Azkals head coach Michael Weiss, just moments after the team advanced to the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup main tournament, that the team ain’t seen nothing yet.
He was asked about the significance of the Azkals’ solid stint in the Challenge Cup group stage, with draws against Myanmar and Palestine and a big win over Bangladesh.
“How important is this victory?” he almost repeated the question.
“Just wait because you will see in the next few days. How people will jump in the rolling van,” said the architect of the Rwanda’s (No. 133) rising football program.
In 2005, the Philippines was near rock-bottom at No. 191, then jumped to 171 the following year, back down to 179 then 160 to 167 in 2009.
The country’s performance graph in the official FIFA website had the needles jumping over the last 10 years, but has been on a steady rise since April of 2010.
During this stretch the Azkals brought back to life the sports that Filipinos used to love but seemed to have forgotten over the last couple of decades.
“We’re still working on it and trying to put the final pieces of the puzzle,” said Palami, who has dug deep into his own pocket to make sure the Azkals are up on their feet. And Palami said the steady flow of the taller, heftier and more skillful players is a sign of better things to come for the Azkals in the international arena.
The 40-year-old businessman insisted that what he has now is just “60 percent” of the full potential he had in mind when he took over the Azkals.
“We’re looking at our own version of the Dream Team by the time the World Qualifier begins,” he said.
The entry of private sponsors have helped a lot with the biggest support coming from PDLT/Smart under Manny V. Pangilinan, Air21 under Bert Lina, Pagcor under Bong Naguiat and ABS-CBN under Gabby Lopez.
“We have a job to do. We have to work on many, many departments,” said Weiss.
“We need a lot of money to really establish football in the Philippines. Look at the grassroots, there’s nothing there. I’m happy with our success but there’s a lot to be done.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. Source