BOCAUE, Bulacan – The country’s first-ever hosting of the AFF Suzuki Cup a lukewarm response from fans as sparse crowds marred the first two matchdays held at the Philippine Sports Stadium here.
About 4,000 people gathered to see the Philippine Azkals play Singapore to a frustrating scoreless draw in the Group A opener last Saturday, while only 2,000 fans came to see the hosts battle Indonesia to a 2-2 tie Tuesday night.
In both games, it was the traveling supporters of Singapore and Indonesia who provided the festive atmosphere, although a group of Azkals fans known as “Ultras Filipinas” and drummers from the University of the Philippines tried their best to encourage Filipinos to join the cheering.
Attendance at the games pale in comparison to ones held in past Suzuki Cup editions, with the likes of Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam playing in front of at least 40,000 jubilant supporters.
Plenty of reasons can be cited for the low turnout. Probably the main reason is the dwindling support of local football since the Azkals stunned everyone in the 2010 Suzuki Cup by defeating Vietnam, 2-0, in Hanoi.
Another factor is the lack of transportation going to the venue, although the Philippine Football Federation has tapped the services of buses from Trinoma for a round-trip fee of R55.
The use of the Philippine Sports Stadium, the venue owned by the Iglesia Ni Cristo in this area located at Ciudad de Victoria, was the main reason why the country hosted the Suzuki Cup.
Last March, the PFF nearly lost the right to host the tournament, as it wanted to have the Rizal Memorial Stadium as the main venue, while the Philippine Sports Stadium being the secondary site.
But the PFF and the organizing Lagadere Sports agreed to keep the tournament in the country on the condition that the PSS would be the main venue.
The Azkals close Group A on Friday against Thailand at the PSS, needing a win to secure their fourth straight semifinals berth.
Whether more fans would attend the game remains to be seen.