The Azkals begin their road to 2018
Santino Honasan on Jun 11, 2015 01:09 AM
The road to 2018 starts now
Late in 2014, as the Thai football team celebrated a 3-0 win sending them into the AFF Suzuki Cup finals, the Azkals walked off from the pitch with their heads held high, but with the sour taste of defeat.
The Thais went on to win the AFF tournament, and the Pinoys headed back home, facing a lengthy break from international competition.
As 2015 rolled in however, it was time to get back to work, as the Pinoy booters knew that they had to get ready for bigger things. Now, midway into 2015, the AFF tournament seems like a distant memory, as the Azkals get set to embark on their journey to football’s biggest stage, the FIFA World Cup in 2018.
You can say that the road to 2018 began in March, as the Azkals began training camp. Back then, team manager Dan Palami and head coach Thomas Dooley spoke of adjustments in coaching as well as personnel. A couple of names were brought up as potential newcomers, but at the time, nothing was certain.
When the PFF announced the final 23-man lineup for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers were announced however, a handful of new names were on the list, which somehow signaled a new beginning for the Azkals.
The addition of guys like Javier Patino, Iain Ramsay, Luke Woodland, Kevin Ingreso, Stephan Palla, and the return of Stephan Schrock and Neil Etheridge gave fans something to be excited about, in fact, some are saying that this is one of the strongest Azkals squads ever assembled.
Whether this is true or not, is yet to be determined, and they get a chance to show it when they take on Bahrain in their World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers opener on Thursday night at the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bulacan.
And while the Azkals opened 2015 with a loss against Thursday’s visitors, team captain Rob Gier says that it different this time around.
“I don’t think you can use that last game as a gauge. There were different circumstances, different rewards at the end, and different teams. I don’t think that’s going to be a reflection of this game. There’s a lot more at stake, and hopefully now, we’ve got the crowd behind us as well. We’ll be going out there and giving it our best shot.”
Looking to anchor the Azkals’ offense once again, is leading scorer Phil Younghusband, who’s pretty confident on this retooled Filipino squad.
“We know Bahrain has a strong team, but we’re confident that we have good enough players and a good enough team to do well. We know how important it is to have a good start. It’s a big game for us, but we’re very excited and we’re quietly confident.”
After failing to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, expect Bahrain to be more motivated to perform well. Head coach Sergio Batista has made it clear that they’re here to fulfill a goal, and that’s to win.
The Azkals and Bahrain kick off action in Group H of the World Cup/Asian Cup qualifiers on Thursday, June 11. The Azkals then fly off to Doha for a matchup against Yemen on June 16.
The Azkals’ road to the 2018 World Cup will be a long one, and it starts now.
2018 FIFA World Cup/2019 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers: Philippine Azkals vs. Bahrain will be LIVE this June 11, 7:45 pm on ABS-CBN Sports + Action 23 and BALLS HD 167!