Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

For Philippine football -- at least FOUR World Cup qualification home matches

This appears in the Monday, November 10, 2014 edition of the Business Mirror.

For RP -- four World Cup qualification home matches
by rick olivares pic from pff

What were some of the coolest events of 2011?

Yes, I know that was three years ago, but if you follow Philippine sports then you’d know the answer to that in a heartbeat.

Okay. Sirit? We played our first ever home and away World Cup qualification matches. That year, following the triumph of the 2010 Suzuki Cup and the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup qualification matches, the Philippine Men’s National Team destroyed Sri Lanka 4-0 in its first ever home match on July 3 for the Asian Qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil (the nationals drew, 1-1, at Colombo a few days before that).

Advancing to the next round, the PMNT faced Kuwait in Hawalli on July 23 only to take it on the chin, 3-0. Faced with a daunting task of overhauling that goal differential, the nationals lost, 2-1, on July 28th to Al Azraq.

Four matches in two rounds – two home and two away.

Now the most excellent news coming from the Philippine Football Federation’s hard-working General-Secretary Atty, Edwin Gastanes is that the Philippines will be playing a minimum of four – say that again, FOUR – home matches for the Asian Qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup in Russia!

That’s a total of at least eight matches home and away. “That means more chances for us,” said a pleased Gastanes, “but more chances too for everyone else.”

Added the PFF official, “The format for AFC has been changed and will be refined late this year (sometime late November of 2014 around the time of the Suzuki Cup). But basically, for AFC, the confederation has to determine which countries will be in this final 32 for Russia.”

Here’s the table for slots for the 2018 World Cup:
Total No. of Teams
World Cup Slots allotted
Asia (AFC)
4 direct; 1 playoff
Africa (CAF)
5 direct
North American (CONCACAF)
3 direct; 1 playoff
South America (CONMEBOL)
4 direct; 1 playoff
Oceana (OFC)
1 playoff
Europe (UEFA)
13 direct; 1 host (Russia)

The World Cup has 32 countries. Asia has allocated 4.5 slots; meaning four countries will be assured of slots with the .5 slot to be determined by a playoff with another confederation. AFC is trying to increase it.

Gastanes painted this scenario for change in Asian qualification, “Everyone is in one universe divided into eight groups. Not all 46-member countries compete. For Brazil, only 43 national teams participated. Assuming you have 40 teams that will participate for the slots to Russia, they will divided into eight groups of five countries each. That means each country will play the four others in their group. That means at least eight games in a home and away round robin format.”

Continuing the possible scenario, of course, pending ratification in AFC’s next meeting, Gastanes added, “The winner of the eight groups will be set aside and wait and the four second best teams will advance to the next round to compete to determine the five that will go to the World Cup. But that’s another matter. There are no regulations just to be very clear. And of course, all matches will be played during the FIFA international window.”

“Now if the Philippines advances again, that means even more home matches,” pointed out Gastanes.

The exposure to even more elite football can only be a boon for the Philippines. It will give them more experience and raise the level of play.

In the previous two World Cups, Asian countries had to go through two knockout rounds that whittled squads to 20. The third stage saw the remnants grouped into four teams each playing a home and away round-robin format with the top two of each moving on to another round. The fourth round had countries grouped into two where they played another home and away format. The top two countries of each group earned one of the four allotted slot for Asia while the two best third places battled it out for the fifth slot.

The proposed new qualification format sounds much better for all involved as opposed to the previous method early knockout play.

Said Gastanes, “The PFF is looking at both the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium (turf) and the Philippine Arena (grass) for these matches.”

“The reason why we (the PFF) were able to refurbish Rizal was through our earnings from our previous World Cup qualifiers. Now imagine what we can do with four home matches?”

Imagine hosting the Blue Samurai (Japan) at home. Or even the Socceroos (Australia).

Imagine too if can hold our opponents to a draw in away matches (or even steal a win), then turn our homefield into a fortress like it was for the national basketball team during the last FIBA Asia Championships. Considering the rise in the quality of local football, the PMNT can really go places.

Now if all goes according to the proposed plan, the year 2015 could be one of the best and most exciting years for Philippine football and sports.

Four home matches for World Cup qualification? I like the sound of that. And so should you.

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