It's the human and fun side of our sports heroes

Fan surge propels Philippine football to historic win: manager

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By Agence France-Presse

The Philippines national football team was propelled to winning its first Asian Cup berth last week by something it had long sought– thousands of fans in the seats — its manager said Tuesday.

It was a welcome change in a country where basketball is virtually a religion and football has often been played before empty stands, the Azkals manager Dan Palami told a press conference.

In front of a cheering crowd in Manila, the Philippines defeated Tajikistan in the Asian Cup qualifier with a 2-1 come-from-behind win on March 27.

“If it weren’t for them, maybe after the first goal (of Tajikistan), we would not have recovered like that,” Palami said.

“If you can get that extra five percent from the players because the fans are there, that is something to pursue.”

Palami said the crowds were enticed in part by the team’s social media campaign, which included a livestreamed event where the fans were able to ask him questions.

The team, the Azkals — local slang for mongrel dogs — had often suffered the disappointment of playing before small or non-existent crowds.

“The team was deeply affected if no one was watching. Every time, prior to going to (the stadium), the first question they would ask is: ‘Is anyone watching? Is anyone there?’ I would say I was told a while ago, no one was there”.

“Those guys, they will play if no one is watching or just a few (people) but it is different if they know someone is behind them,” Palami said.

Ironically, he said the Azkals often draw larger crowds in their matches in the Middle East where expatriate Filipino workers would turn out to cheer them on.

The Philippines now looks to both the Suzuki Cup in November to face its fellow Southeast Asian nations and the Asian Cup next year.