MANILA, Philippines – The road to the 2014 World Cup might be over, but all is not lost for the Azkals, who bravely fought but failed in losing to the ten-time Gulf Champions Al Azraq of Kuwait, 2-1 (5-1 aggregate score), in the second round of the Asian qualifiers.
There is still victory in the Azkals’ defeat if you ask head coach Hans Michael Weiss and their opponents’ coach.
“They may be down right now but I think this team can take this defeat. We have to take it fairly and also acknowledge that we went up against a tough opponent,” said Weiss moments after loss.
“In terms of the aspects of the game – technique, tactic and conditioning – Kuwait was always one step faster. The team can only learn from this experience. One year ago, who would have thought that we’ll reach this far but we have to continue. I hope that the support will not stop,” Weiss added.
The country has a long way to go and is still a work in progress, but the Al-Azraq Kuwait coaching staff thinks it’s just a matter of time before the Azkals become an Asian powerhouse.
“You have great talents and good system in place. You have to continue playing to gain more experience. We may have more experience and better ranking but I think in a short period of time, the Philippines will become one of the top 10 national teams in Asia,” the Kuwait coaching staff, led by Tufegdzic, said appeared in the post-match press conference.
But for this to happen, Weiss asked for the critics’ understanding and support from the fans.
“We still have a long way to go but the Philippines is on the right track. The team will be a contender for the World Cup in the next four years [in my own point of view] but we will need more international exposure and extensive training,” said the German mentor, who replaced English mentor Simon McMenemy early this year.
The Azkals will resume training with the Under-23 Team late in August to prepare for the Long Teng Cup in Taiwan in September.
Weiss said that they will bring in a couple of youngsters, whose names were withheld, to test them before the Southeast Asian Games in November.
The team will undergo an extensive four-week training camp in preparation for the SEA Games, including another trip to the Gulf region for exhibition matches. A four-nation cup is also being eyed to give the Azkals more international exposure leading to the AFC Challenge Cup in March, where the country is one of the eight nations competing for a spot in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia.
Joining the Azkals in the tournament are Palestine, India, Turkmenistan, Maldives, North Korea, Tajikistan and Nepal.
“First of all, everybody needs a break. We need a mental and, as well as, physical break. These players have sacrificed a lot in the past few months. They might be down but they did a fine job. They held their own against a top 100 team in the world. I don’t want to praise them too much but they gave their best but it was not enough to lead us to victory,” said Weiss.