Vintage Rizal Stadium, home of the biggest matches ever played, is fit as venue for Azkals tiff.

By Abac Cordero

Except for some minor cracks, the Rizal Memorial Stadium was given a clean bill of health, meaning it could serve as venue of the Azkals match against the Sri Lankans on July 3.

“There are no defects,” said Philippine Sports Commission chairman Richie Garcia yesterday.

“There are some cracks na kailangan ng (that needs) epoxy,” added Garcia after a thorough check with the Department and Public Works and Highways regarding the stadium’s structural stability.

It’s been many years since the stadium that was put up in 1934, has hosted an event as big as the coming Azkals match.

The stadium has played host to soccer matches of the Southeast Asian Games in 1981 and 1991, and way before that to some of the biggest matches ever played in the country.

Enrique Beech, the 91-year-old veteran of the 1956 and 1960 Olympics, as a shooter, was also part of a Philippine football team, then known as Turba Salvaje, that played at the same stadium.

He remembers the time when they could fill the Rizal Stadium two hours before a match, including one against Hong Kong, in the ‘50s, when he scored the marginal goal in his team’s 2-1 win.

“I remember that winning goal, a header off a corner kick, with the full-back in front of me. I fell after the goal, and the full-back from Hong Kong picked me up and said, ‘You are very good,’” Beech recalled.

An expected sellout crowd of close to 25,000 should once again fill the place when the Azkals face the Sri Lankans in the second match of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

Sri Lanka will host the opener on June 29, and this early local officials, including Philippine Football Federation president Nonong Araneta, are making sure there’s a venue fit for the match.

The Azkals played against Mongolia at the Panaad Stadium last Feb. 9 in the group stage of the AFC Challenge Cup, and the Filipinos won, 2-0, before some 20,000 fans.

Garcia said aside from some cracks in the stadium itself, they have to make sure that the scoreboard is working, the stadium repainted, and rust scraped from the main tower.

“But we were given the green light,” said Garcia, adding that temporary locker rooms and a media room will be constructed.

He said it would cost the PSC and the PFF a couple of millions of pesos, but it shouldn’t be a problem following the entry of San Miguel Corporation as a sponsor.

“Kayang-kaya ng San Miguel (They can handle it),” said Garcia. Source