Ryan Fenix, special to InterAksyon.com
This past year saw the Philippines embark on a slow and steady rise in the FIFA World Rankings, rising from 147th place to finish at 127th place, the highest ranking ever for the Azkals.
Astonishingly, they would even outrank Suzuki Cup Champions Singapore (150th) and runners-up Thailand (146th), who would conceivably care less given the silverware in their trophy cabinets.
But really, how much has Philippine football progressed since the Miracle of Hanoi in 2010 and the glory year of 2011?
It can be remembered that once upon a time, there was talk that football would dislodge basketball as the number one sport in the country. The Azkals games were the hottest tickets in town, and Rizal Memorial Football Stadium would be packed to the rafters with nary an empty seat to be found.
Those were the good old days, it seems.
Today, despite rising to become Southeast Asia’s number one football team, it appears that Philippine football has lost momentum, at least from the general public’s point of view.
Could it be because of the lack of international tournaments in 2013?
The non-participation of the men’s Under-23 squad in the recently-concluded Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar has hurt Philippine football more than any Rufo Sanchez controversy. Bad news from a loss is still news; it still promotes the game. No news promotes apathy and indifference.
In a quiet year for international football, it was up to domestic football to step up to the plate.
The United Football League has taken up the cudgels in promoting football to the masses, providing league and cup action for the year. There was also the nationwide PFF Smart Championship won by Ceres-La Salle.
However, this is the million-peso question: Do the Philippine sports fans still care about football?
In this light, 2014 in many ways would represent a make-or-break year for Philippine football.
The UFL League will start in February, and it is hoped that more Filipino talent will come through the ranks, so that more local heroes would emerge.
Internationally, the AFC Challenge Cup in May awaits, with a ticket to the 2015 Asian Cup the reward for the winners. The importance of participating in the Asian Cup cannot be overstated.
The AFF Suzuki Cup in November would be another acid test for the country. After two consecutive semi-finals appearances, surely we should do one better if we are to back up our claim as the “best Southeast Asian team” according to FIFA.
The Azkals would do Philippine football a ton of good if we were to do well in these two major tournaments. It would give Philippine football the proverbial much needed shot in the arm. No pressure, guys.
The motivation should be to regain the momentum of football and sustain it.
The target should be inspiring more people to pick up football, the same way Gilas Pilipinas did for basketball in those 11 days in August 2013.
The goal is to make those James Yap fans realize that it is worth their while, and in their best interests, to become James Younghusband fans as well.
Ryan Fenix is InterAksyon.com’s resident football analyst. His football column Rampaging Fullbackappears exclusively on the site. He runs the football blog The Prawn Sandwich Brigade and covers football for Sports5. For more football discussion, follow him on Twitter.