By FRANCIS SANTIAGO
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Azkals are likely to camp out in a Middle East country for their build up for their Round 1 match against Sri Lanka in the qualifying tournament for the 2014 World Cup, Philippine Football Federation chief Mariano Araneta said Thursday.
“We’re looking at either Qatar or UAE,” said Araneta, noting that the training could begin anywhere between June 7-17.
The Azkals will battle their South Asian rivals in a home and away series staring on June 29 in Colombo and July 3 in the Philippines.
Asked why they want to train in a Middle East country, Araneta said: “Without looking past Sri Lanka, coach (Michael) Weiss and Dan Palami (team manager) also want to prepare against Kuwait in Round 2. We know that the weather in Kuwait is extremely hot so training in a Middle East country will get the players acclimatized with the weather condition.”
Ranked 22 spots higher in the FIFA world standings, the Azkals appear favored over the 173rd ranked Sri Lanka, which the Filipino booters have never played before.
The Azkals, though, are expected to be put to their limits against Kuwait, a Middle East ans Asian football heavyweight which won the Asian Cup in 19890 and is currently ranked 101st. Round 2 is another two-leg series slated July 23 and 28.
“But we’re not underestimating the Sri Lankans,” said Araneta, adding that he was satisfied with his inspection of the 30,000-seater Rizal Memorial Satdium in Manila -- the venue being eyed to host the game against the Brave Reds aside from the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City.
"The conractor said the field will be ready by July so it's good. Our only concern are the dressing rooms which need to be fixed," Araneta said.
Without making a decision, Araneta sounded as if the Rizal Memorial Stadium will be the choice.
"Maybe we can set up an air-conditioned tent for the media covering the event," he added.
By the time World Cup qualifier starts, striker Phil Younghusband has fully recovered from his hamstring injury and may join his teammates in Sri Lanka, strength and conditioning coach Josef Malinay said.
The team goes to Tacloban City, hometown of Palami, on Friday to conduct a relief operation for hundreds of victims of a recent flooding there and the nearby towns.