There will be a special gift for Azkals fans come December: an unprecedented FIFA friendly match on December 25th 2018.
“I think this is a creative way to give a treat for our fans,” says Azkals manager Dan Palami.
The PBA regularly plays games on Christmas Day, so the Azkals have decided to follow suit.
“These days most Azkals games have been on weeknights. That has made it hard for fans to attend. This way more families will be free to watch,” said Palami. Every single match of the AFC Cup qualifying campaign, for example, was played on a Tuesday because clubs usually play on weekends.
The Azkals have been back on the spotlight after a 2-1 win against Tajikistan last march 27 gave them their first-ever AFC Asian Cup berth. No doubt this match will continue to spike interest in the team.
But Palami says the friendly on December 25th will be more than just a workout.
“On January 5 the Asian Cup in UAE begins. It is paramount that we get some cohesion in the squad,” explains Palami.
“This will be a tough game with roster spots and places in the starting formation at stake.”
The Azkals will also be playing in the Suzuki Cup which traditionally runs into early December. The squad will likely be sharp by then but, says Palami, “ with the Asian Cup coming up that sharpness can’t be lost over the Christmas season, so this game is perfect.”
Azkals management is sending letters to some other AFC Member Associations to see which side would like to play this Yuletide match. It has been reported that Muslim-majority countries are favored since they do not celebrate Christmas. On the short list are Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, who are also all in the Asian Cup and would likely fancy a tuneup against a strong side. European team Turkey are also reportedly in the running.
The Azkals manager also said that the Philippine Stadium in Bulacan would be the ground.
“It is a world-class venue and it would be great if we could play there again,” said Mr. Palami. The Azkals last played in Bulacan during the 2016 Suzuki Cup, when they exited in the group stage without a win. The nearby Philippine Arena has also hosted Christmas day PBA games, so the management of the venue will be familiar with this sort of event.
“Some of the players are not that enthused about missing Christmas with their families, especially the ones based abroad. But they understand that these are the sacrifices you have to make for the country,” explained Palami.
Ticket prices have been set for the encounter already, and are priced at P500, P1500, and P2500.
“We are really hopeful for a full house in Bulacan for this special occasion, and I am sure our players would give us the perfect Christmas gift: a home win,” said Palami. And he also added one more note.
“An early Merry Christmas to all and a Happy April Fool’s Day also.”