Suzuki Philippines Send-off Ceremony

Team Azkals goes for the goal
By Earl D.C. Bracamonte

Suzuli Phils (SPH), the only integrated automobile-and-motorcycle company in the country, expressed their support for the 35 members of the national football team of the Philippines, popularly known as Azkals, in a send-off ceremony at the Edsa Shangri-La recently. “This gathering celebrates the team's performance last year and to encourage them in their forthcoming endeavors. We fervently hope their efforts develop a football culture in the Philippines,” declared SPH president Satoshi Uchida in his welcoming speech.
The send-off ceremony is the last activity of Team Azkals in Manila, as the team members are scheduled to fly to Bacolod City and continue their training at the Panaad Stadium, the site of the country's match against Mongolia on Feb. 9. The game opens a home-and-away qualifying series for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup.
Team Azkals has landed in Sports Illustrated's Top 10 best world teams as well as in ESPN's Play of the Day Choice for their victory against the Vietnamese team.
The Azkals (a contraction of “asong kalye” literally means “stray dogs” in colloquial Filipino dialect), who has emerged as the nation's football team, surprised everyone last year at the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup when they qualified for the semi-finals for the first time since the early years in 1940 when the Philippines fared well in the Far Eastern Championship games. Despite being the oldest national team in Asia, theirs is a football team representing a country that has never had any significant success on the international stage; and has never qualified for the AFC Asian Cup nor the much-coveted FIFA World Cup. The Philippines still remains to be a country where football takes a backseat to basketball and boxing.
“Every country is different. And I say this as an observation to the many experiences I have had with several countries. I usually get the best out from every team. I hope to continue the momentum and success story that Team Azkals has started,” enthused new team coach Michael Wise.
At the send-off ceremony, SPH preseident Satoshi Uchida, together with general manager for motorcycle sales & marketing Eiji Kobayashi, general manager for auto sales & marketing Shuzo Hoshikura as well as managing director Catalina Calderon, handed back an AFF Suzuki Cup match ball. For their part, Team Azkals handed back the Nike T90 Ascente match ball, known to be the most accurate and visible ball in the world, that was autographed by all team members as a keepsake of the team given to SPH by way of saying thank you for their valuable support.
“A good team starts with good players as well as support from all fronts. We do things one step at a time. We are tapping Filipinos here and abroad to develop key players from within the country and without. We are likewise implementing the grassroots development program of Japan wherein we bring football back to the schools to hone potential athletes and come up with the nation's top players,” intoned team manger Dan Falami.
This time, SPH has passed back the ball to Team Azkals in a symbolic gesture to wish them luck: like two cooperating football players trying to reach the same goal; challenging the bigger “dogs” in the arena, and in the end emerge triumphant and proud!


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