Historically, the Philippines have been one of Asia's pioneering footballing nations, with the game having been the most popular sport in the country for the last 20 years of the nation's Spanish rule (1875-1895).

However, despite their long association with the beautiful game, they have never achieved any real, quantifiable success. Recently, the founder members of the AFC, decided not to participate in the qualifying rounds for 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, but instead focused on domestic and regional competitions, such as the AFF Championship.

A look back
There is a long running debate on whether the British or the Spanish brought football to the Philippines, but regardless of its initial roots, the game's development is an interesting one. Believe it or not, one of the game's earliest stars was a Filipino, namely striker Paulino Alcantara, who played for Barcelona. Hailing from Ilonggo, Alcantara was the youngest player to play for Barcelona and scored an astonishing 357 goals for the club between 1912 and 1927.

As Alcantara was busy scoring goals in Spain, the Philippines football team was making waves of their own. They won the gold medal in the 1913 Far Eastern Games, the forerunner of the Asian Games. Twenty-three years later, the Manila Football League was established. This brought together most, if not all, of the country's top clubs.

Following the Second World War, the Philippines became founder members of the AFC (1954) and seven years later the Philippine Football Association was officially created. Among the influential figures of Filipino football at that time was the energetic Don Andres Soriano Sr, the chief of the San Miguel food conglomerate.

Soriano injected new life into football in the country by hiring German expert Bernard Zgoll, who arrived in 1979 to oversee the setting up of eight football centres in sites nationwide. These centres would be where young football hopefuls under the age of 18 could be nurtured and developed until they rose from the ranks and played for the national team.

Twenty-five years of improvement
1982 was a watershed year as the Philippine Football Association reorganized and became known as the Philippine Football Federation, with an aim to set up more regional associations to popularise the sport.

The most notable football feat in the 1990s occurred during the 1991 Manila Southeast Asian Games when the Filipino footballers reached the semi-finals. After this accomplishment, overseas victories proved hard to come by.

However, the foundation for a new generation of players was laid with the launch of an aggressive grassroots programme in 1998 known as Kasibulan, under the remit of former PFF president Johnny Romualdez, which was funded by FIFA and the German government.

This comprehensive plan included courses, clinics, camps and tournaments for children under 12 in 50 provinces and 300 cities across the country. Trained PFF instructors also went around nationwide to teach PE teachers the fundamentals of football with the hope of passing their instruction to the children under their care.

Philippine football received a further boost as it entered the new millennium. The national teams, both men and women, became reinforced by foreign-bred Filipinos whose footballing knowledge and experience helped to enhance the country's standing in international competition.

With help from FIFA's Goal project, the country's footballing infrastructure has been significantly improved with the opening of National Training Centre in the city of Barotac Nuevo. This has seemingly given football in the country a boost, with the Panaad Stadium packed to its 12,000 capacity during the AFF Championship qualifiers.