MY LATE paternal grandma Genoveva, a devout Catholic, used to say that priests in the pulpit have almost the same pull on the multitude as movie stars.
Well, seeking the succor of men of the cloth probably crossed the minds of Philippine Football Federation officials. They have done everything they could to attract fans to fill the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bocaue, Bulacan, to the rafters on Sept. 8.
That’s when the Azkals face their national team counterparts from Uzbekistan—a country 49 places above ours in the world rankings—in the ongoing qualifying matches for the Fifa World Cup in Russia in 2018.
Against the Uzbeks, the toughest team in Group H of the qualifiers, the Azkals are gunning for their third straight victory, after gritty wins over Bahrain, 2-1, and Yemen, 2-0.
The Azkals expect to draw strength from fans on home turf, a modern football and track stadium at Ciudad de Victoria, in their desire to become a force in Asian football and highlight their ultimate goal of someday making it to the World Cup.
But unless a marketing miracle happens, it looks like the Nationals will play the Uzbeks before a sparse home crowd again.
When the Azkals edged Bahrain on June 11, 7,000-plus fans showed up at the 25,000-capacity stadium.
With less than two weeks to go before the Azkals’ match with the Uzbeks, PFF president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta, reported that gate receipts amounted to only P900,000 and change paid by 4,326 fans.
Azkals ticket prices of P500, P300 and P100 plus tax and applicable charges are about the same amounts you shell out for games in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).
The pro basketball league is currently in between tournaments and yet it still corners the attention of fans and thus, dominates the local sports news cycle.
That’s because of the conflict, the drama, the surprises and the corporate circus behind the selection of the Philippine national team to the Fiba Asia Men’s Championship in Hunan, China, next month.
That the faithful follow the testy formation of the Gilas team like a soap opera is a textbook example of the widespread influence basketball has on local sports.
Essentially, the situation is a lousy one that has diverted fan interest from the other sports, notably football and the Azkals’ important match on Sept. 8.
With Gilas around, the brass band stops playing for the Azkals.
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In any case, there are a few precious days left before game time.
For the sake of sports diversity, please follow the lead of celebrity supporters, including two senators of the realm, who are rallying fans to show up in full force for the Azkals.
Let’s put the steam back in the national team’s World Cup quest and help make that marketing miracle happen.
Tickets to the Azkals game are available at a TicketWorld outlet nearest you.