Expect fewer fans to troop to the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium (RMFS) in Manila on March 28 when the national team Philippine Azkals squares off against Tajikistan.
(The RMFS has been reported to be the venue for the make-or-break match for the Azkals).
A victory would send the Philippines to the 2019 Asian Cup, the continent’s Tier 1 football tournament, while a draw or a defeat would complicate matters for the national side.
At present, the Philippines (2018 FIFA ranking: 123) tops the group standings but breathing down its neck is Tajikistan (125) in Central Asia.
Of the other two teams in the group, Yemen has an outside chance of making it to next year’s Asian Cup, while Nepal has been eliminated.
March 28 is Holy Wednesday and the Philippine Football Federation could have suggested to whoever it is that scheduled the Philippines-Tajikistan match on the admittedly holiest week among Filipino Christians to move it to another day.
As it is, the crucial game apparently cannot be moved anymore.
We football fans, therefore, are stuck with it and may God have mercy on us (perhaps He would because watching a football clash between two of the better teams in Asia sure beats drinking beer or singing karaoke in some beach resort).
Looking at the bright side, however, it would seem that the unlikely schedule suits the commuter football fan, who, with Metro Manila deserted (granted that the March 28 tussle will be held at the RMFS), can hope to make it to the game on time even if by chance the LRT and MRT trains suspend services on that date.
Six days before the Philippines battles Tajikistan, on March 23, the Azkals are meeting Fiji (2018 FIFA ranking: 168) for a friendly, a fitting tune-up for March 28.
The date is one day away from Palm Sunday (March 25) but, again, expect fewer fans at the RMFS, perhaps partly because Fiji is ranked much lower than the Philippines.
But maybe, the fact that the Pacific island nation is the reigning Olympic rugby sevens champion should be attraction enough, that is, if the Fijians’ footballing skills match those of their compatriots in rugby.
Of course, a win against the visitors would make the Azkals more confident when they face off with the Tajiks.
On both March 23 and March 28, the Philippine Azkals need our support.
Try to be present in at least the match with Fiji or Tajikistan or, so much the better, in both games.
The next Asian Cup will be held in 2023, yes that’s how long we will have to wait to know if the Azkals have got what it takes to play against the big boys.