CEBUANO football fans will finally see the Philippine Azkals up close when the national team takes on the Singapore Lions for the third time in three years in an international friendly set on Nov. 16 at the Cebu City Sports Center football field in Cebu City.
“Singapore has confirmed to play the Azkals on Nov. 16 and it will be in Cebu City,” Philippine Football Federation president Mariano Araneta Jr. said yesterday, adding the match will be the last tune-up game of the Filipino booters before they swing into action in the AFF Suzuki Cup in late November.
It will mark the first time the national squad, which recently arrived from a two-week training camp in the United States, will play an international match outside of Iloilo, Bacolod and Manila. The match will be the first to be held in the Central Visayan province.
“The field (at the Cebu Sports Center) is at its best condition in years and if it needs rehabilitation, the Cebu Football Association under its new president, Ricky Dakay, is willing to spend for it,” Sun Star-Cebu sports editor Mike Limpag, an avid soccer enthusiast, said yesterday.
The game will be a rubber and grudge match between the two Southeast Asian squads, which have gone in opposite directions in the FIFA world ratings since they last met a year ago.
The Filipinos have risen to No. 150 in the latest world rankings while the Singaporeans have dipped 12 rungs lower at No. 162.
In an upset of sorts, the Azkals drew with the highly-fancied Tigers 1-1 on Chris Greatwich’s last-gasp second-half injury time header in the 2010 Suzuki Cup Group stage eliminations in Hanoi, a result that served as the springboard to their surprise semis finish in the event.
But Singapore avenged that defeat with a 0-2 drubbing of the Philippines in an international friendly played on its home turf last October.
The Azkals are in Group A of this year’s Suzuki Cup while the Tigers are in Group B.
Limited to just one game in their recent two-week training stint in the US, the Azkals will have a busy September, opening with a three-match friendly series on Sept. 5, 7 and 9 against Cambodia, Singapore and Laos in their respective capitals.
“The Azkals play Cambodia in Phnom Penh, then Singapore in Singapore, before winding up against Laos in Vientiane,” Araneta said.
After a two-week respite, the Nationals will see action in the four-nation Paulino Alcantara Cup in Bacolod, a tourney named after the Filipino mestizo striker who saw action for Spanish powerhouse Barcelona in the early 1900s, from Sept. 25 to 29.
They play Guam on Sept. 25, Macau on Sept. 27, before facing Chinese-Taipei on the last day of the event on Sept. 29.
October will see the Azkals continuing their build-up in the Middle East, highlighted by a friendly against Bahrain in the country’s capital of Manama on Oct. 12.
“I am still arranging for another Middle East national team to play the Philippines during their training camp there,” Araneta said.