Football's popularity hit a record high in Negros Occidental last
year. And thanks to Negrenses, Philippine football is also reaching
Proof of this was the combined attendance of 60,000 in the
Philippines' four matches in the Asean Football Championship-Qualifiers
at the Panaad Park and Stadium in November as well as the thousands
who stayed up late and converged at bars and other viewing areas
to watch the World Cup, held only once every four years, and won
this year by Italy.
Negros Occidental has become a huge fan base for the Philippine
Football Team. A 1-2 loss to eventual tournament top-notcher Laos
on opening-day left the 18,000 fans who flocked to the Panaad disappointed.
But the Filipino booters responded in the best possible way, beating
Timor Leste, 7-0, before defeating Cambodia, 1-0, and Brunei, 4-1,
on Nov. 20 to the delight of the 16,000 in attendance. The wins
not only gave the Filipinos a slot in the main tournament set in
Bangkok, but also pushed them to the ranking of 171 in the world,
the country's best in 12 years.
"We wanted to make up for the disappointment in the Southeast
Asian Games. The Negrense fans were part of this victory," coach
Aris Caslib told the DAILY STAR after the win against Brunei. Emerging
as the biggest star of the five-nation tournament was Filipino-British
striker Phil Younghusband, who tallied six goals in four games.
Phil, together with older brother, James, became instant celebrities
in Bacolod, along with the rest of the members of the national team.
"It's absolutely amazing. I can't speak highly enough
of the fans because they make us who we are," Phil said. Among the
Negrenses who were part of the national team were Ali Rojas-Go and
Bagoeno Edward Sacapano.
The Negros Occidental Football Association launched Hudyat Negrense:
Putbol, a series of activities aimed at raising awareness for the
Asean Tournament. The Bacolod City Council also declared Bacolod
as Football City from Oct. 22 to Nov. 30. The first-ever Negros
Occidental Football Night was held on the eve of the World Cup opening
in June 9 to honor the pillars of Negros Football. Among those honored
were posthumous awardees Eduardo "Dading" Ledesma and Jose "Baby"
Gonzaga, Florentino Broce, Salvador Lacson, Freddie Lazarito, Reynaldo
Dofitas, Norman Fegidero, Alfred Dioso and Arnel Sagansay.
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