By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE YEAR 2019 saw Philippine football churn out a mixed bag of results across various levels but nonetheless had it eventful and left much to take cue from moving forward. Thus, said one local observer of the sport.
From the “botched” new local pro league, to the a breakthrough campaign of the men’s national squad, to the drama-filled election for the top football position in the land, to the spirited run of the women’s squad in the Southeast Asian Games, Philippine football had it all and more in the year that just passed.
“It’s a mixed bag. The season started on the edge when it comes to the professional league. Good thing was, through the sheer will of some of the stakeholders, things went towards a much better course, eventually preserving the league and football fans seeing the league champions, Ceres-Negros, crowned in spectacular fashion as ‘Invincibles,’ not to mention the domestic cup,” said Earl Averilla, author of the football site 5th Minute of Added Time in an interview.
He was referring to the Philippine Premier League (PPL) under which local club football competition was supposedly to be played under beginning in 2019, taking over from the Philippines Football League (PFL).
But the PPL did not pan out as expected across the board, prompting the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) to pull out of its agreement with the PPL operators and revert to the PFL.
The PPL only had one match date played on April 27.
Mr. Averilla said that what happened to the PPL was lamentable as the league showed a lot of promise in its buildup but thankful that parties concerned pulled together by way of the PFL to keep the league and the competition alive for a third season.
“The Philippine Premier League showed immense promise in the early stages of its buildup. However, challenges arose as the lead-up to the opening kickoff came nearer leading to its eventual demise. Several factors could be considered that might have contributed to the fiasco, but from Philippine football fans, all they really were hoping was for it to succeed. It’s just sad that it didn’t,” said Mr. Averilla, whose football site discusses everything of interest to the local fans of the sport.
“Philippines Football League really was tested big time after taking what’s left in the aftermath of the previous league organizers’ shortcomings to let the season fly. With the resources that they have they soldiered on to let the season stay afloat. In the end, it’s a relief that they pulled it off despite the challenges,” he added.
For a third straight year, Ceres was crowned PFL champion and went undefeated at that. The “Busmen” also claimed the Copa Paulino Alcantara title, dethroning erstwhile champion Kaya FC-Iloilo.
PROGRESS FOR THE AZKALS
Mr. Averilla said 2019 also showed how the Philippine Azkals have progressed, adding another feather in their cap with a first-ever appearance in the Asian Cup in January.
They failed to progress beyond group play but had their moments of brilliance, which he said should not be overlooked.
“As for the Azkals’ Asian Cup debut, it’s bittersweet, as despite their valiant efforts against continental powerhouse South Korea in their opener the Filipinos were not able to get a point resulting to an early exit in the tournament. It might have been expected, given the FIFA rankings, that the Philippines was in for a tough campaign but the fact that the Philippines was able to qualify and participate in the continental stage says a lot when it comes to the level of progress that the national football team has achieved and things could just get better, hopefully, in the following years,” Mr. Averilla said.
The 5th Minute of Added Time author also said local collegiate leagues delivered from their end as San Beda University and Ateneo de Manila University won the National Collegiate Athletic Association and University Athletic Association of the Philippines championships, respectively, in convincing fashion.
The Red Booters beat Arellano University in the final to reclaim the NCAA seniors crown while Ateneo dug deep to win over rival De La Salle University in the championship match in UAAP Season 81.
The election for the presidency of the PFF had a lot of color and drama as incumbent Mariano Araneta and Negros Occidental Football Association president Ricky Yanson pushed for their respective bids.
Both camps presented solid claims for the presidency, some of their points coming at the expense of the other.
In the end though, Mr. Araneta earned a third term, winning, 23-12, over Mr. Yanson in elections held on Nov. 29.
Mr. Averilla said the U-22 and women’s teams made a good run in the 30th SEA Games which the country hosted last month but still showed that work still needs to be done to take things to another level.
“The Azkals U-22 bannered by Stephan Schrock and Amani Aguinaldo bowed out of the group stage by the slimmest of margins despite what could arguably be the best-ever showing (technically speaking) by the national team in the tournament’s history,” he said.
Adding, “Meanwhile, although the Philippine Women’s National Football Team may have achieved a massive milestone by reaching the SEAG bronze medal match purely by merit for the first time, it was vanquished once again by perennial nemesis Myanmar denying a first medal for our ladies since 1985.”
MASSIVE NEXT YEAR
With the way things unfolded for Philippine football in 2019, Mr. Averilla said there is every reason to believe that 2020 could be “massive” for the sport.
“2020 is definitely going to be massive for Philippine football. The women’s team is going to suit up for the 2020 AFF Women’s Championship which will be hosted here in the Philippines. The Azkals continue their 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers campaign as early as March. The PFL, with the boost provided by Qatar Airways’ sponsorship, is set to begin as 2019’s ‘Invincibles’ Ceres-Negros commence their title defense,” he said.
“Of course, 2020 will also be the year for another edition of the AFF Suzuki Cup which will take place later in the year as the Azkals hope to break the semifinals curse and set foot in the final for the first time in history and, hopefully, bring the trophy to Philippine shores. Surely, 2020 is an exciting year for Philippine football,” Mr. Averilla added.