09 June 2011

Villaflor: That World Cup dream

By Noel S. Villaflor

EVER since the Azkals’ fairytale run in the AFF Suzuki Cup finals last year, I’ve noticed how quite a number of people confuse the national team’s zeal for delusion.

Among the worst that I’ve come across are those who insist that the Azkals have become so overconfident they believe they can qualify for the World Cup. I normally ignore such comments, but following the results of last weekend’s friendly match between the national team and the UFL All-Stars, the skeptics are at it again, all guns blazing.

It would be helpful, therefore, put the Azkals’ and their handlers’ efforts in perspective. We can start with identifying what the team’s goals – short-term, mid-term and long-term – are.

First, I’ll have to backtrack a couple of months before the Suzuki Cup.

On the morning of the first Saturday of August last year, Dan Palami, the manager of the Philippine Men’s National Football team, brought core members of the Azkals to Cebu City for a free football clinic, a charity event with no fanfare.

There—on a tiny, unkempt football field—I met Dan for the first time. I wasted no time asking him about his role in the team and of course their goals. I wrote about it for this column, published the next day, with the title, “All it takes is one visionary.”

(Dan told me months later it was the first time someone had written about him as manager, and in such a light.)

What struck me in that interview with Dan was his answer when I asked him what his long-term goal was for the team, which is “qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.”

He said this without the slightest hint of hesitation. At that point, I thought Dan was joking, but I quickly realized the man was dead serious after he narrated an overview of the team’s objectives.

Of course, I also forgot what he had told me seconds earlier: “We want to make sure we’re focused on our short to medium-term objectives of raising the Philippine team’s Fifa rankings by winning international competitions,” Palami said.

Several months passed and the Azkals have inched their way up the rankings. They have since hired a no-nonsense German coach in Michael Weiss. So far, apart from the spectacular run in Vietnam, the team has qualified for the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup and is now in deep preparations for the World Cup qualifiers.

During the team’s visit in Cebu City two weekends ago, I asked Dan about one of the team’s lesser known medium-term objectives: to barge into the Top 100 of the Fifa rankings.

I had come across the information from an online German website, Spox.com, which
published a feature last January about the Azkal’s new German coach and his role in achieving team’s objectives.

“Our goal is to get into the top 100 for the medium term. We want to close the gap between the best Asian countries,” the article, in German, quoted Palami as saying.

I asked Dan during their visit if such a plan is still part of the Azkals blueprint.

He said yes. Right now the team is ranked 156, quite a number of rungs from the 100 target.

“To achieve that, we have to play more matches with other national teams,” said Dan, who cited the Four Nations Cup among Southeast Asian teams in October, among others.

As for the World Cup qualifiers matches, the Azkals won’t take any chances against Sri Lanka as they go deep into training in Germany.

“We will be playing against second and third-division club teams in the Bundesliga, and this will help us prepare for the next phase,” Dan said.

“We really stand a good chance. For the first time, we’d be getting past the first round of the World Cup qualifiers, finally, after more than 100 years of Philippine football,” Dan said.

And if they do get past Sri Lanka, what would success against a strong, experienced Kuwait team mean?

“If we get past Kuwait, that’s going to be crazy. It will be an even bigger football story than the Vietnam upset,” Dan said.

Against a team ranked 101st in the world, beating Kuwait might just herald the country’s entry into the Top 100.

And how great it would be to say: Just as planned.


Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on June 09, 2011.


  1. “qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.”

    Palami has become full of himself hasn't he. No way is that realistic and achievable. Ridiculous!!

  2. if these players composing the new team now continue to play together in the next few years, they could be the team to beat in southeast asia.
    no question, i believe they are individually good. to play in the first, second and third divisions in europe is something.

  3. Another dreamer on the loose. lol

  4. i was another dreamer on the loose a year ago before PH beat vietnam. if you read my post i did not say we will qualify in the 2018 world cup and all i'm saying is at the southeast asian level. consider for a moment that your pool of players for the national team will not be coming from the very few who play in the philippines but rather from the millions of pinoy half-breeds all over the world and this changes the equation vis-a-vis other southeast asian nations.

  5. Paano magiging solid yung plano mo if you don't dream first!!!............Glory to Azkals

  6. "Paano magiging solid yung plano mo if you don't dream first!!!"

    You don't have to dream some ridiculous dream such as qualifying for the 2018 World Cup to have a solid vision and plan. That's just stupid!

  7. Good thing Filipino women whore themselves around the world. If they didn't where would the Philippines get their players from? Thank god for that!! This proves true for the Nat. Basketball Team as well.

  8. Whoa! now you are calling Filipino women whores. Who are you??

  9. That comment about the Filipino women was classless and completely uncalled for. This is about football. Stick to the topic.

  10. The problem with the first poster above was that he's basing our dream of WC 2018 qualification upon our pathetic football record and our lack of a premier football league. The past national teams consisted of mostly "low-skilled" players so what they did is irrelevant to what will happen in the next 7 years. Our pre-Azkal teams never had a chance to win against teams we could beat today because the PFF never took our teams seriously. As a result, only a minuscule amount of money and resources were invested - enough to put a team together, travel and compete.

    However, with the rise of the Azkals' popularity, the PFF has finally invested more money to help take our team reach the next level. So the poster above was not taking into account the much higher caliber of players we've managed to assemble for our current team and our future young players who are getting tons of invaluable experience from playing in European leagues.