Determined to put up a credible showing in the AFF Suzuki Cup late this year, the Philippine Azkals are leaving no stone unturned in their buildup for the prestigious tournament, even as manager Dan Palami stressed the importance of commitment from players to the national side.
The Azkals found themselves in what appears to be a tougher group that also includes three-time champion Thailand, 2008 winner Vietnam and the top team from the five-nation qualifier in October in Yangon.
“If we want to win, we have to beat the strongest teams,” said Palami, under whose guidance the Azkals achieved a historic semifinal appearance in the tournament two years ago.
“That’s the only way to go about it. It is imperative that we prepare ourselves properly.”
Former national coach Aris Caslib, the Philippine Football Federation technical director, said the draw will have little effect on the outcome of the Azkals campaign.
“It’s all about preparation,” said Caslib, who expressed confidence that the impact of the Azkals’ victory against Vietnam in 2010 could give the Filipinos the edge in their group.
The Azkals are in for a tough grind before they plunge into action in the Nov. 24 to Dec. 1 regional tournament in Bangkok with two training camps and at least 16 matches in the next four months.
Because of the national side’s hectic schedule, Palami called on the Azkals to be more flexible with their schedule and to prioritize the national team.
“Playing for the national team is an honor and privilege,” Palami said. “It should not be taken for granted. We expect the players to prioritize their duty to flag and country. We will exhaust all efforts to fix scheduling conflicts. We also hope that all parties will be flexible with regards to fixing the schedule.”
The two-week training camp in the United States will include a match against the Chicago Inferno in Chicago on Aug. 11 and an international friendly against the US Virgin Islands in Indiana on Aug. 17.
The Azkals’ next stop will be New Delhi, where they will join the five-nation Nehru Cup against the host squad, Jordan, Syria and Kenya from Aug. 22 to Sept. 2.
Another training camp is being planned, possibly in Bahrain, where the Azkals also prepared in their build-up to last year’s World Cup Qualifying match against Kuwait.
The Azkals will see action in the Long Teng Cup in October in Bacolod City, although the PFF is still awaiting confirmation from Hong Kong to complete the four-team cast.
Palami said they could accept invitations to play international friendly matches against Indonesia and Vietnam.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Sports Commission and the PFF yesterday signed a Memorandum of Agreement that will pave the way for the construction of an artificial pitch as part of Fifa Goal Project 3 at Rizal Memorial Stadium.
The agreement will be for 25 years and makes the facility exclusive for football-related activities. The PSC will also build four new locker rooms and two new shower rooms.
PSC chair Richie Garcia said the existing contract with De La Salle University, which spent to fix the drainage and as well as the refurbishing of the field, will still be honored.
PFF president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta said the long-term plan is to increase the capacity of the stadium to 30,000 from 25,000. The deal will also call for a 60-40 revenue sharing in favor of the PFF with income earned to be allotted for the maintenance of the facility.