By Olmin Leyba
MANILA, Philippines – Talents from the provinces take centerstage as the Philippine Football Federation-Smart Under-22 Amateur Championship kick off its group stages beginning next month in venues all over the country.
A total of 32 teams from the different regional football associations are participating in the tourney, where the PFF hopes to discover candidates to the Phl U-23 side to the 2017 Southeast Asian Games.
The event, which will culminate in the knockout quarterfinals, semifinals and finals in January 2016 at the Panaad Sports Complex in Bacolod City, will give the floor to U-22 players who haven’t seen action yet in the first and second divisions of the United Football League.
“We won’t include any player from the UFL first and second divisions to give more chance to provincial players to show their talents and compete in an organized tournament,” said PFF competitions committee head Cyril Dofitas during yesterday’s press launch with PFF general secretary Edwin Gastanes and Smart Sports senior manager Epok Quimpo.
“Smart has always been a supporter of Philippine football, especially in the grassroots and competitive levels,” said Quimpo, adding the tourney goes in line with Smart’s campaign inviting everyone to the “Smart Life.” “We want participants not only to maximize their talents but also share it with their loved ones through their cellphones, postings on Instagram, Facebook and also inspire players younger than them."
The teams are scattered in eight groups and will play single-round robin with the winners advancing to the Last-8.
Group A is slated October 4 at Jose Yap Sports and Recreational Complex in Tarlac; Group B on Oct. 16-18 at Sta. Cruz Complex in Laguna; Group C on October 29-30 at Eco Athletic Field in Daet, Camarines Norte; Group D on Nov. 11-15 at Panaad; Group E on Nov. 25-29 at Surigao del Norte Sports and Cultural Center; Group F on Dec. 9-13 at Davao del Norte Sports and Tourism Complex in Tagum; Group G at Kalawag Central Sports Complex in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat; and Group H on Dec. 18-20 at Andres Bonifacio Field in Dipolog City.
Quarterfinals are set January 16-17 at Panaad with the victors progressing to the semis three days later. Finals and battle for third will be on January 21.
According to Gastanes, members of the champion team will be strongly considered to form the core of the Phl U-22 team that will compete in next year’s Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy in Brunei and possibly for the U-23 team to the next SEA Games.