by rick olivares
The Smart National Clubs Championship gets underway this March when teams from all over the archipelago compete for eight slots to vie for the national title.
In an interview with Philippine Football Federation Competitions Department Head Cyril Dofitas at the Balducci Ristorante and Deli at the Serendra in Bonifacio Global City last week, the competition, he said, “revives a national tournament that we have not had in a while.” The last nationwide competition was a National Men’s Open Tournament held in Bacolod five years ago when under the presidency of Juan Miguel Romualdez. There were plans for a similar national competition under PFF president Jose Mari Martinez who succeeded Romualdez but they did not push through for a variety of reasons.
Added Dofitas, “We can thank the new federation leadership and the great support football is now getting now just from Filipinos but other countries from all over the world.”
The tournament, sponsored by telecommunications giant Smart, will kick off with the Provincial Qualifying Rounds this March as Member Associations (MAs) organize their own tournaments to determine their representative to the Group Stages.
The single-round robin competition takes place from April 1-16 when football associations battle it out in Cluster Qualifying Rounds. One club will represent each MA only.
North, south and central Luzon: Baguio City, Laguna, Quezon, Rizal, and Tarlac.
Southeast Luzon: Camarines Norte, Naga City-Camarines Sur, Legazpi City-Albay, Masbate and Oriental Mindoro.
North Mindanao: Butuan-Agusan del Norte, Bukidnon, Iligan-Lanao del Norte, Cagayan de Oro-Misamis Oriental and Surigao del Norte.
South Mindanao: Agusan del Sur, Compostela Valley, Davao, and Davao del Norte.
Central Mindanao: Maguindanao-Cotobato City, North Cotobato, South Cotobato, and Sultan Kudarat.
West Mindanao: Misamis Oriental-Ozamiz, Zamboanga, Zamboanga del Norte-Dipolog, and Zamboanga del Sur-Pagadian.
Then from April 1-30, clubs from the Visayas region (Cebu, Iloilo, Leyte, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental) and the National Capital Region will compete immediately in the Regional Qualifying Rounds while waiting for the winners of the Luzon and Mindanao clusters.
Said NCRFA President Atty. Rolly Tulay, “Because of the little time we have (given the national tournament schedule), we will begin our competition as soon as the college football season ends.”
The top four teams from the Luzon Cluster Qualifying Round, the top team from each of the Mindanao group clusters, and the top two club teams from NCR, Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao winners will advance to the finals which will be played in Manila from June 6-25.
“Right now we are looking to hold the finals in either the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium or the University of Makati,” clarified Dofitas.
Clubs may line up to five foreign players but only four can play on the field at any given time.
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