MANILA, Philippines – After the disappointing crowd turnout in the AFF Suzuki Cup, the Philippine Football Federation is eyeing venues that are more accessible to fans for the Azkals’ home games in the coming AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers.
PFF president Nonong Araneta told The STAR that Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila looms as the top candidate even as football-loving provinces like Bacolod and Cebu are considered.
“It depends on the preparations (of the venues). If Panaad or Abellana (Cebu City Sports Complex) or the new USC stadium in Cebu will be ready, we might bring it there. Otherwise, (it’s) Rizal,” Araneta said.
The Azkals terribly missed crowd support during the Suzuki Cup group stage last year at the 20,000-seater Philippine Sports Stadium in Bocaue, Bulacan, where a high of 4,000 showed up.
Araneta said the PFF had wanted Rizal to be the main stadium but the Suzuki Cup’s rights holder Legardere Sports disapproved the decades-old facility and went for the PSS instead.
For the Asian Cup qualifiers, the PSS is not high on the agenda.
“It’s a world class stadium but it poses a problem in transportation for the fans and of course, we want the fans to go to the games,” said the PFF chief.
Crowd attendance won’t be a problem in the Visayas, as previously shown when the Azkals beat Mongolia in the qualifying match of the AFC Challenge Cup at Panaad 2011 and played Malaysia to scoreless draw in a friendly at Cebu City Sports Complex in 2014.
“It will be good to bring the games to the provinces, where fans can come,” said Araneta.
The Azkals will play five home matches in the Asian Cup qualifiers and Araneta expressed the possibility of tapping two venues for the job.
“Playing in two venues is allowed. China for example played in different venues in the World Cup qualifiers,” said Araneta, referring to the Shenzhen Stadium in Shenzhen, Helong Stadium in Changsa, Wuhan Sports Center Stadium in Wuhan and Shaanxi Province Stadium in Xian that hosted the Chinese booters.