Bigger, better nat’l U-23 tournament slated

PFF president Nonong Araneta and SPH president Satoshi Uchida shake hands. (Photo by Sid Ventura)

Nearly a year to the day that the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) and Suzuki Philippines launched the first-ever under-23 national tournament last year in Los Banos, Laguna, the two entities are partnering once again for a bigger and better 2012 edition aimed at sustaining the growth of football and discovering future Azkals.

The 2012 PFF Suzuki Under-23 National Cup gets going on March 18 in Dumaguete City, with all 33 football associations under the PFF participating. But unlike last year's inaugural edition, which was launched on March 30 and ran for only three months, this year's edition will feature a longer format, with the qualifying stage offering more matches for each team and the national finals featuring the top ten teams to be held next year.

The longer format and earlier kick-off is in line with the PFF's goal of preparing early for the 2013 Southeast Asian Games to be held in Myanmar and avoiding a repeat of the disastrous 2011 SEAG campaign which saw the Philippine team lose four of five matches.

"Along with the football hype in the country is our ceaseless search for a stronger Philippine team. The Cup will definitely groom our young aspirants to be the best of what they can be," said PFF president Mariano "Nonong" Araneta. "This tournament is just a good opportunity for us to see the best available local talent. It's also a good gauge on the performance of our provincial football associations."

"One of Suzuki Philippine's thrust is really in the development of local sports. As we have always stressed, we are strongly committed to the Philippines," said Suzuki Philippines president Satoshi Uchida, who called football "one of the underrated sports" in the country.

Last year's U-23 tournament discovered the likes of Joshua Beloya, Jinggoy Valmayor, OJ Clarino, and Neckson Leonora, who all eventually made it to the under-23 national team that participated in the SEA Games. Beloya, in fact, has already received several call-ups to the senior team.

Since the target is next year's SEA Games, the cutoff age for players is 22. All players born on or after January 1, 1991 are eligible, according to competitions head Cyril Dofitas.

Teams will play each other twice in the qualifying rounds, after which three teams from Luzon, three from Visayas and four from Mindanao will advance to the national championships next year. The semifinals and finals will be a two-leg home-and-away series, Dofitas added.

After the Visayas leg launch on the 18th, the Mindanao leg fires off a week later in Cagayan De Oro while the Luzon leg starts on April 1 in Calamba, Laguna.

Here are the clusters for Luzon, Viasayas and Mindanao:

Luzon

Group A — Baguio City-Vigan FA, FA of Tarlac, FA of Rizal, National Capital Region FA

Group B — Laguna FA, Oriental Mindoro FA, Quezon FA

Group C — Camarines Norte FA, Legaspi-Albay FA, FA of Masbate, Naga City-Camarines Sur FA

Visayas

Iloilo FA, Cebu FA, Leyte FA,Negros Occidental FA, Negros Oriental FA

Mindanao

North Mindanao Cluster — Bukidnon FA, Butuan Agusan Del Norte FA, CDO Misamis Oriental FA, Lanao Del Norte FA, Surigao Del Norte FA

South Mindanao Cluster — Agusan Del Sur FA, Compostela Valley FA, Davao FA, Davao Del Norte FA

Central Mindanao Cluster — Maguindanao/Cotabato City FA, North Cotabato FA, FA of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat FA

West Mindanao Cluster — Ozamis FA, Zamboanga FA, Zamboanga Del Norte FA, Zamboanga Del Sur-Pagadian FA

E-mail: sid_ventura@yahoo.com. Twitter: @Sid_Ventura

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