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The Azkals’ ‘pro bono’ duo

LAST week was great for the Azkals.

The national soccer team got word from the blue bloods of Fifa, it’s international federation, that it has jumped 13 notches in the world rankings.

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Local soccer’s heartthrobs are now 124th out of 209 teams in the Fifa fold—the highest they’ve been in  years following gritty victories over Bahrain and Yemen at the start of their campaign in the World Cup qualifiers.

They will face Uzbekistan next at the Philippine Stadium on Sept. 8 in a match with so much at stake for the locals.

Not only will the Azkals attempt to conquer a team 49 places above them in the rankings. They will also put into focus their desire to become a force in Asian football and bring much closer their ultimate goal of one day qualifying for the World Cup.

Azkals manager Dan Palami and Philippine Football Federation (PFF) president Mariano Araneta are heartened by the Azkals’ giant leap in the standings.

They can only hope that the team can translate its rise in the rankings into financial success while courting the youth to take up a sport best suited for the Filipino’s built and temperament.

Palami and Araneta, both successful businessmen, have religiously supported the Azkals. It is common knowledge among reporters covering local soccer that Palami bankrolls the team with support from Araneta.

“They are known as the pro bono duo,” says Inquirer football reporter Cedelf Tupas. “Puro sila abono. (They always make up for the team’s money shortage).

Soccer’s local government body is able to cover its regular overheads and expenses and can dip into special funds to spend for administration and football development but not for the national team.

Money for the national team “is really not enough coming from other sources,” Palami explains. “So while we continue to work on making the sport viable for [commercial] sponsors it is really myself assisted by Nong (Araneta) who take care of the shortfall.”

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Perhaps feeling the strain as the team’s major benefactor, Palami says: “Sometimes I wake up at night… and ask myself if [our efforts are] worth all the money and time spent.”

Palami’s says his temporary regret blows over when he sees the faces of kababayans  (countrymen) during the game, especially when we play in places where most of the fans in attendance are overseas Filipino workers.”

Commercial sponsors now in the fold account for 20 percent of team expenses, with several more choosing a wait-and-see attitude.

Araneta said negotiations are ongoing with an airline company to serve as the official carrier of the Azkals and the PFF. He hopes an agreement materializes soon to cover the team’s international and domestic travel expenses.

Another course of action to generate resources for the Azkals and soccer is for the PFF to develop a national professional league.

Araneta reports that with the help of Fifa and the Asian Football Confederation, the PFF has created a task force to look into the feasibility of a national pro league.

He said the PFF has commissioned AC Neilsen and Company to pick out the cities that can sustain teams and the proposed league. Neilsen’s findings are expected in November.

But Araneta said funding for the Azkals will not undergo a major transition without fan support.

The best way to finance the team is for fans to fill up the venue whenever the Azkals play a home game, according to Araneta.

Araneta says Asian neighbors like Malaysia and Indonesia are awash with cash for their national teams because they fill up football stadiums that could sit 80,000 fans.

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TAGS: Azkals, azkals world cup, Fifa, league, PFF
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