Football: Azkals fighting for redemption, recognition in upcoming tournaments

ABS-CBN Sports on Jun 15, 2018 02:50 AM
Azkals fighting for redemption, recognition in coming tests
“We don’t want to be mere participants, but we want to be true competitors in the Asian Cup.” - Azkals Team Manager Dan Palami

As important as the first quarter of 2018 was for the Philippine Azkals, the coming months are definitely even more crucial.

With the introduction of former England skipper Terry Butcher as the national team’s new head coach, the road to redemption and recognition begins.

"The next 12 months is huge for Philippine football. If we can have success in the Suzuki Cup and the Asian Cup, that will be huge strides in the development of football here in the Philippines." said Azkals skipper Phil Younghusband.

Redemption is the goal for the upcoming 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup, which kicks off in November. The last time that the Azkals participated in the biennial Southeast Asian tournament, it was definitely one to forget.

For the first time since 2008, the Philippines failed to qualify for the Suzuki Cup semifinals, snapping a streak of three straight Final Four appearances.

This year, the Azkals once again find themselves grouped with Thailand, Indonesia, and Singapore, just like in 2016.

“We have the same group as in the 2016 Suzuki Cup, so it’s a chance for us to redeem ourselves and do better.” said Azkals team manager Dan Palami.     

“[It's] the same draw we had two years ago when we didn’t qualify,” said Younghusband. “We know it will be tough and it’s a challenge for us.”

The Fil-British striker added that in order to establish themselves as a force to reckon with in Southeast Asian football, teams like Thailand and Indonesia, and Singapore are ones that they need to take care of.

“If we want to continue to help the growth of Philippine football, these are teams we will have to play and win against.”

A successful AFF Suzuki Cup campaign will also definitely give the Azkals the much-needed momentum as they begin their AFC Asian Cup campaign, their first in team history.

On the biggest stage that they’ve been on, their goal is to be recognized as a legitimate contender in Asian football.

“The Asian Cup draw is a difficult group, but there are other groups that are more tough. It will be great to get the experience of playing a World Cup side to see what level we are at.” Younghusband said.

In the Asian Cup, which kicks off in January of 2019, the Azkals find themselves grouped with South Korea, China, and Kyrgyzstan.

All three teams are ranked higher than the Philippines.

And while it’s bound to be an uphill battle for the Azkals, Younghusband is hopeful that they can come up with some surprises.

“China will be very difficult, but we played them last year so we know what to expect. I would rather play a team we have played before. Kyrgyzstan, we played twice recently and had good victories so it should be interesting. Hopefully, we can claim a best third spot or even surprise a few people and claim second spot.” 

Much like the captain, Palami acknowledges that the Asian Cup will indeed be a tough go, but going through tough opponents is the only way for the Azkals to prove themselves among Asia’s elite, and that’s what Palami wants to see from the Pinoy side.

“For the Asian Cup, it will be a tough group, but I think if we do it right, we can pull off one of the biggest surprises in the tournament, and that’s what we aim to do.”

“We don’t want to be mere participants, but we want to be true competitors in the Asian Cup.” Palami added.

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