MANILA, Philippines - Azkals coach Michael Weiss expressed high hopes his wards can contend in the AFF Suzuki Cup in November in Thailand, citing the progress the team has gained since its breakthrough semifinal stint in the previous ASEAN tilt.
“It’s now one and a half years since the 2010 Suzuki Cup and we’ve done a steady and very good progress,” Weiss said in an interview on the AFF Suzuki Cup website
“We’ve actually brought in many, many players, we’ve done trips all over the world and now we’re a very solid group of 25 players. And actually, there’s not so much difference between the starting members and the ones on the bench as it used to be. That’s our greatest achievement and that gives me hope for the Suzuki Cup,” he added.
Cranking up their buildup for November’s AFF Suzuki Cup, the Azkals have started their 17-day training camp in the US, where they are slated for friendlies against the Chicago Inferno Soccer Club (Aug. 11 in Wheaton, Chicago) and US Virgin Islands national team (Aug. 17 in Indianapolis).
Weiss has formed a 24-man pool for the sessions, headed by comebacking captain Aly Borromeo, co-skipper Chieffy Caligdong, and veterans Jason Sabio, Rob Gier, Ian Araneta, Denis Wolf, and Eduard Sacapano.
Fil-Am Chris Greatwich, goal-scorer in the Azkals’ 1-1 draw with Singapore in the group stages of the 2010 Suzuki Cup, has been reactivated for the US sortie, along with Fil-Panamanian Demetrius Omphroy and Fil-Italian Matt Uy.
Completing the roster is a mix of experience and youth: twins Marvin and Marwin Angeles, Misagh Bahadoran, Jeff Christiaens, Ref Cuaresma, Jason de Jong, Roel Gener, Anto Gonzales, Nestorio Margarse, Carli de Murga, Paolo Pascual, OJ Porteria, and Patrick Reichelt. Fil-Spanish Angel Guirado is also included but is listed as “to be confirmed later.”
Conspicuously absent are the Younghusband brothers, Phil and James, who could not join due to previous commitments.
The US camp kicks off a heavy schedule of activities that includes a series of friendlies against ASEAN neighbors Cambodia (Sept. 5 in Phnom Penh), Singapore (Sept. 7 in Singapore) and Laos (Sept. 10 in Vientiane). A fixture with Indonesia in Jakarta is also being worked out, along with later camps in the Middle East and Japan just a four-nation meet in Bacolod.
Weiss said this follows a similar mode of preparations they undertook prior to the the Azkals’ bronze-winning campaign in the AFC Challenge Cup last March.
“Based on the success and performance of the players in the Challenge Cup, we’re trying to bring this team as often together as possible. We’ll have international matches and overseas camps throughout the year,” said Weiss.
The Azkals will play Premier Development League (PDL) side Chicago Fire in an exhibition match on Aug. 11 in at Wheaton’s Joe Bean stadium, and mix it up with the US Virgin Islands “Dashing Eagle” in a Fifa international friendly on Aug. 17 in Indianapolis.
The Pinoy booters will fly home on Aug. 20 to gear up for the next stage of their loaded itinerary: A tour of Southeast Asia. Up ahead are friendlies against Cambodia on Sept. 5 in Phnom Penh, Singapore in Singapore on Sept. 7 and Laos in Vientiane on Sept. 10. A fixture with Indonesia in Jakarta is also being worked out.