PH football comes full circle with AFF Suzuki Cup hosting duties

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The Philippine Azkals celebrate after their conquest of North Korea in the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — In 2010, the Philippines could not even hold an international football friendly in the country, but fast forward six years and they are now co-hosting the Suzuki Cup — South East Asia's most prestigious tournament.

What a difference six years has made.

Prior to 2010, the Philippines was considered as the region’s whipping boys of football.

A point best emphasized by the existence of a Wikipedia page for a 13-1 thrashing at the hands of Indonesia in the 2002 edition of the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Championship, which was then called the Tiger Cup.

But all that changed after an unlikely victory in the group stage of the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup.

An unfancied Filipino XI, through the head of Chris Greatwich and the boot of Phil Younghusband, pulled of a 2-0 upset of hosts Vietnam in Hanoi.

 

The victory helped push the Azkals into the semifinals of the competition and into the consciousness of the public at home.

It was such a surprise that the country did not have a suitable venue ready to hold the home leg of its semi-final tie against Indonesia.

That year, the Philippines was forced to play both games at the home of Indonesia, the 88,000-seater Gelora Bung Karno Stadium.

In the face of a raucous crowd, the Filipinos fell 1-0 in both their 'home' and away fixtures.

 

Though they did not end the tournament with silverware, the Philippines' dogged display breathed new life to football in the country.

More support poured in for the sport after the tournament, as evidenced by the growth of a semi-professional league and the establishment of more playing venues in Manila.

Since 2010, the previously 'homeless' Azkals have now held international fixtures at the revamped Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila, the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bulacan, and the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod among others.

They have also successfully hosted Suzuki Cup home legs after reaching the semi-finals in both the 2012 and 2014 editions of the tournament.

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Though the initial excitement over Philippine football has long since died down, what’s left was a more educated public, playing venues that meet international standards, a still developing club system, and a growing pool of both foreign and locally-based players.

For those who like looking at the official FIFA rankings, the Philippines jumped up from 167 in 2009 to 135 in 2016, which is good for second in the ASEAN region.

With the Philippines hosting the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup this November, Filipinos will get a chance to have a more intimate look at the tournament that has given football a new lease on life in the archipelago.

Even though the country has already proved that it can host international games, the chance to co-host the Suzuki Cup is proof of the strides that the Philippines has made in just six years.

The 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup will kick off on November 19.