Azkalmania triggers business boom
- Joaquin M. Henson () - February 7, 2011 - 12:00am

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – The rising popularity of the Philippine national football team has converted this Negros Occidental capital into the epicenter of Azkalmania where fans from all over the country are congregating to witness the game against Mongolia in the opener of the Asian Football Cup (AFC) Challenge Cup qualifying home-and-away series at the Panaad Stadium here Wednesday night.

City Mayor Bing Leonardia said hotels are slowly filling up but assured the public that rooms are still available. However, popular hotels like L’Fisher and Luxur, where the Azkals stay, are fully booked.

Enterprising businessmen are producing self-styled Azkals T-shirts. Philippine Football Federation (PFF) president Mariano Araneta, Jr. said Mizuno is producing “official” T-shirts carrying the PFF logo to be sold at the venue for P500 apiece. Nicky-Boy Puentevella has come up with his own unique design and his shirts are selling for P400 each. Dieter Soukup, a German who lives here, has rolled out a series of Azkals T-shirt designs through his company Inkmaxx.

“I’m a football fan and Inkmaxx supported the Philippine team in the 2005 Southeast Asian Games in Bacolod,” said Soukup. “Our Akzals T-shirts sell from P119 to P199 only and are available at our stores and hopefully, at the stadium on Feb. 9. We accept on-line orders. Shirts to be sent by forwarder carry a freight charge of P100 for one or two shirts, P200 for three to five, P250 for six to 10 and P20 per shirt for 10 or more. My designs are on facebook.”

As for his countryman Michael Weiss being the new Azkals coach, Soukup said, “I’m happy about the German coach and I’m confident a new football era will begin in the Philippines now.”

Araneta said he hopes a sea of white will envelope the stands during the match against Mongolia.

“We’ve asked all the fans to wear white because our team will be wearing white,” said Araneta. “We’re encouraging everyone to bring Philippine flags to wave. We want to show the country is solidly behind our team.”

The PFF is in charge of allocating 16,000 tickets for the match – 10,000 given free to the public, 2,000 for VIPs and 4,000 for sale at P300 apiece. The host organization is the Negros Occidental Football Association headed by Charlie Cojuangco.

The opening ceremony for Wednesday’s game will include a fireworks display provided by Rep. Alby Benitez. 

Philippine Olympic Committee chairman Monico Puentevella, who played a key role in convincing FIFA to recognize Araneta as PFF president after the mid-stream removal of Jose Mari Martinez on a vote of no-confidence late last year, said sufficient lights have been installed at the Panaad Stadium to satisfy the AFC requirements.

Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) chairman Richie Garcia requested Department of Education secretary Br. Armin Luistro for approval to transfer 300 lux from the Paglaum Stadium to Panaad to bring up the capacity to 800 lux. Another 300 lux at Paglaum may be transferred if necessary. The PSC actually owns the lights but Paglaum is under Department of Education supervision. The Panaad Stadium, on the other hand, is owned by the provincial government headed by Gov. Alfredo Maranon.

A slew of VIPs is expected to witness the match. Leonardia said he has not been informed if President Aquino isarriving. Some VIPs who are coming include Sen. Bong Revilla, Sen. Migz Zubiri and Philippine Olympic Committee president Jose Cojuangco, Jr.

Puentevella said he can’t wait for the Panaad Stadium to be cloaked in white by 16,000 fans.

“When we played Indonesia in the Suzuki Cup in Jakarta, I think we were only seven Filipinos wearing blue because that was our team color,” said Puentevella. “But there were 80,000 Indonesians wearing red which was their team color. It’s almost like a culture in football where you see the home fans wear the local team’s colors in the stands. It’s a show of solid support.”

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