By Lynde Salgados
FOOTBALL is again "alive and kicking" elsewhere in the country today. Thanks to the Philippine Azkals' meteoric rise that Suzuki -- RP's only integrated automobile and motorcycle company -- is now taking the cue in sponsoring the Suzuki-PFF U23 Football Qualifying Tournament which opens here today at the Xavier University's soccer field.
Featuring host Cagayan de Oro-Misamis Oriental Football Association (CMOFA), Iligan-Lanao del Norte Football Association (ILNFA), Surigao del Norte Football Association (SNFA) and Butuan-Agusan del Norte Football Association (BANFA), the four-team rivalry will be played until April 2.
Survivor of the five-day tourney will advance in the Mindanao finals.
"We have only qualifying games in Mindanao. At least four regional tourneys where each top performing team will duel it out for the right to represent Mindanao in the National Finals," said Eilleen Esteban, advertising and PR supervisor of the Suzuki Cup.
And what better way to conduct the finals is to have the regional qualifiers clash in a home-and-away championship match.
"The winning team, of course, will be crowned as the PFF-Suzuki U-23 Champion," Esteban further said.
Sanctioned by the Philippine Football Federation, the PFF Suzuki Cup is considered as a local version of the AFF Suzuki Cup, the very event that served as a launching vehicle of the Philippine Askals into Asean football stardom in 2010.
And telling that her Japanese superiors at Suzuki are big football fans themselves, Esteban said "we believe that with the help of private sponsors, football is going to be the next big thing to happen in Philippine sports."
With Suzuki's valuable support, CMOFA president Mike Bantiles and the rest of the local football entities who attended Monday's forum at the VIP hotel could only thank the Philippine Azkals for all the blessings that come along the way.
"The wind of change that we can share now for the betterment of grassroots football development," added Xavier University's resident trainer Percy Guarin, himself a vintage Askal being a former member of the Philippine football team alongside Conson Manresa of Iligan.
PFF representative Cyril Dofitas also graced the Suzuki Cup briefing as well as CMOFA insiders Teddy Raypon and Percibal Batar and former UST-UAAP stalwart Julie Gerona Popovic, team manager of Monte Carlo booters that recently emerged back-to-back champion in the Marawi City Invitational Games.
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on March 30, 2011.