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Bacolod City, Philippines Thursday, January 4, 2007
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Football glory, Pacquiao
victories top 2006 stories

Football's popularity hit a record high in Negros Occidental last year. And thanks to Negrenses, Philippine football is also reaching new heights.

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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