Nepal invited to test Azkals in an exhibition match on Oct. 9

By Joaquin Henson

Philippine Football Federation (PFF) president Mariano Araneta Jr. said yesterday Nepal, ranked No. 136 by FIFA, has been invited to play the Azkals in an exhibition match here on Oct. 9 and it will be an early preview of what to expect in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup finals in March.

Nepal is hosting the Challenge Cup finals where seven other countries are playing after a series of qualifiers. The eight teams in the finals are the Philippines, India, Maldives, North Korea, Palestine, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Nepal.

Araneta said a plan for Manila to host a four-team invitational tournament has been scrapped because of conflicts with FIFA schedules. The Philippines, ranked No. 162 by FIFA, is booked to play in the Challenge Cup and the Suzuki Cup next year. The national under-23 squad, coached by Michael Weiss, will compete in the coming Southeast Asian Games in Indonesia. The PFF’s contract with Weiss expires in 2013.

Araneta confirmed that the Azkals will participate in the Long Teng Cup in Kaohsiung on Sept. 28-Oct. 6. The tournament is traditionally among host Chinese-Taipei, Macau, Hong Kong and the Philippines. But organizers are planning to expand the cast to six with invitations sent out to Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia. Last year, the Philippines posted a 1-1-1 record in the competition, crushing Macau, 5-0, losing to Hong Kong, 4-2, and tying with Chinese-Taipei, 1-1.

Araneta said he expects Fulham goalkeeper Neil Etheridge to fly in for the Kaohsiung tournament. The Azkals will not undergo special training for the Long Teng Cup. However, the under-23 team will set up boot camp in Kuwait or Bahrain or Japan before the SEA Games in Indonesia on Nov. 11-22.

Regarding a training program for the Azkals in Europe, Araneta said he spoke with Sen. Edgardo Angara on the phone three weeks ago about the possibility of arranging a tie-up with a Spanish club. Last year, three officials from Real Madrid were in Manila to explore a working relationship with the PFF through Sen. Angara. It was then agreed that the PFF, still under former president Mari Martinez, would get the ball rolling by formally requesting training assistance from Real Madrid. An eyewitness said the Real Madrid and PFF officials shook hands to indicate a meeting of the minds. The formal letter, however, was never sent. The protocol in such an arrangement involves a triggering letter of request from a national federation and a city-to-city agreement to cement the relationship. Martinez was eventually replaced by Araneta who said he knows nothing about the Real Madrid meeting.

Araneta said he was informed that the Barcelona Football Club is interested to look into the early history of Filipino football star Paulino Alcantara who was born in Iloilo in 1896. Alcantara was the first Filipino ever to play in Europe and made his Barcelona debut at the age of 17. He finished his football career as Barcelona’s all-time leading scorer with 357 goals in 357 matches, a record that remains unmatched and unsurpassed. Alcantara later served as Barcelona club director and Spanish national coach. He died in 1964.

“We were advised that the Spanish consul would like to visit Iloilo sometime next month and find out more about Mr. Alcantara’s beginnings, how he is revered in Iloilo,” said Araneta. “Perhaps, this could be the start of a relationship between Iloilo and Barcelona and between the Azkals and the Barcelona Football Club.”

Sen. Angara recently announced in his twitter account that the Congreso de los Diputados in Spain, headed by Jose Bono Martinez, has issued an institutional declaration affirming close ties between the Philippines and Spain. The Philippines was cited by the Spanish Congress for “unparalleled magnanimity” towards Spanish soldiers during the Siege of Baler in 1898-99. The bond linking both countries is celebrated on Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day every June 30 as decreed by the Philippine government.

As for the Azkals incentives, Araneta revealed that each player received $1,000 after the recent Sri Lanka home-and-away series. Before the home game against Kuwait, the PFF gave the Azkals $500 with the promise of a $1,000 bonus for a win and a $4,000 reward for making it into the third round of the World Cup Asia qualifiers.

Cortal, a major Azkals sponsor, also offered incentives for the home match against Kuwait – P1 Million for every goal in a win and P500,000 for every goal in a loss. As it turned out, the Philippines lost a 2-1 heartbreaker. Because of the Azkals’ lone goal in the defeat, Cortal is committed to pay out P500,000. It’s not certain if the players will get a share of the incentive. Araneta said he is not involved in the commercial aspects of marketing the Azkals and wouldn’t know if the players will receive a share or if Cortal has even paid the bonus. He said team manager Dan Palami, who has registered the Azkals trademark, is in charge of the marketing affairs. As of yesterday, a high-profile Azkals player said he had not received a share of the Cortal incentive and didn’t know if the players would be given by Palami.

Araneta said the PFF grossed over P20 Million in ticket sales for the Sri Lanka and Kuwait matches at the Rizal Memorial. “We were told La Salle spends about P900,000 a year to maintain the pitch and we’re grateful to La Salle for transforming it into a world-class field,” he said. “We’re offering to pay half the maintenance costs as we know La Salle spent over P8 Million to rehabilitate the pitch and we’ll be making extensive use of it. We still have a lot to do in sprucing up Rizal, like cleaning up the restrooms in the gallery section. The unmoving clock on the giant scoreboard is an eyesore and we’ve had to rent two electronic scoreboards for the recent matches. We hope the Philippine Sports Commission will consider replacing the giant clock scoreboard with a digital system.” Published in The Philippine Star