RANGOON—There was a time when the performance of the Philippine football team hardly mattered to the public. But things have changed after the national booters’ sensational run to the AFF Suzuki Cup semifinals late last year.
And with their popularity now even greater than any of them had imagined, there’s pressure to deliver in every tournament, especially now in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifying group stage that starts here today.
Even one of the less vocal players in the team whose members are now popularly known as Azkals has sounded out that concern.
“The pressure is really on us now,” said the Fil-Icelandic defender Ray Jonsson, who grew up in Liloan, Cebu, before moving to Iceland when he was eight.
The Azkals held a quick team meeting at the Yangon Hotel Saturday upon arriving here and were reminded of the expectations heaped on the team when it plays overseas.
“It’s not enough that we have the credentials, we have to show it on the pitch,” team manager Dan Palami said. “We have to build on this momentum we have now. We know what will happen when things don’t go as planned,” added Palami, wary of the backlash of losing here when the team comes home.
The AFC Challenge Cup is the first major tournament of the Azkals and Palami said their performance here “will charter the path of Philippine football for the next year.”
“It will determine whether or not we have another a tournament to play in next year. It will also give us a feel if we are ready for the World Cup qualifiers,” said Palami.