THE much-anticipated visit of the Philippines' men's national soccer team, who are more popularly known as the "Azkals", was made official last night.
The Bahrain Football Association (BFA) received yesterday written confirmation from the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) that the team's trip will be going ahead. The letter was signed by PFF general secretary Ramon F Manuel.
The "Azkals" are scheduled to be in Bahrain between July 13 and 19. During their stay, they will play two friendly matches, either against Bahrain's men's national team or the kingdom's under-23 Olympic soccer team.
The first tune-up will be held on July 15, to be followed by the other two days later. The venue for the games has yet to be confirmed, but they are expected to take place at the National Stadium in Riffa.
More details of their trip are to be released soon by organisers, including the complete roster of players who will be in the kingdom as well as information on events that will be organised for fans to meet the players.
"We are very happy to say that we have received the letter from the PFF which we have been waiting for, and now the Philippine team's visit to Bahrain is 100 per cent confirmed," a high-ranking BFA executive told the GDN last night.
The official noted that the national federation is delighted to be welcoming the "Azkals" to Bahrain, and that BFA vice-president Shaikh Ali bin Khalifa Al Khalifa is most especially interested in the visit. Shaikh Ali is personally overlooking the organisation of the Philippine team's stay.
The BFA official added that this first-of-its-kind trip for the "Azkals" to Bahrain is a wonderful opportunity to further enhance relations between the kingdom's Filipino community and all soccer lovers on the island.
Several players on the Philippine team's roster have been, or are presently, members of top clubs in Europe. Among them are James and Phil Younghusband, who were youth and reserve team players at English Premier League side Chelsea; and goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, who is currently a reserve team member of English club Fulham.
There are others who are also playing for clubs in Spain, Germany, Denmark and Norway, as well as in the US.
The "Azkals" are constantly improving on the international stage. They are presently ranked 156th on the Fifa World Rankings. The team is also tremendously popular in the Philippines for reasons off the soccer pitch.
The "Azkals" have so far played five international matches this year, winning a pair against Mongolia and Bangladesh, losing once in a return match against Mongolia, and then drawing twice against Myanmar and Palestine.