By FRANCIS SANTIAGO
MANILA, Philippines — There's so much to look forward to for the Philippine football team whether it advances or not to the third round of the qualifying tournament for the 2014 World Cup.
At least three tournaments are lined up for the Azkals in the next four months that will keep the team busy until the end of the year.
The Azkals were playing Kuwait's Al-Azraq at presstime in the second leg of their second round qualifying series at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium, facing a gargantuan task of overhauling a 0-3 deficit before the home crowd.
Regardless of the outcome, Philippine Football Federation president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta Jr. and team manager Dan Palami are both convinced that the team has already made great strides in the sport, coming along way from just ‘minnows’ in Asia and Southeast Asian neighbors to an emerging and developing football power.
“Whatever happens, facing Kuwait has already cemented the development of the team considering that a few months ago we have not imagined playing against them,” Palami said.
“We are actually making great strides in the sport. I think that fact that we’re facing Kuwait, an Asian Cup champion, a one-time World Cup finalist and a Gulf champion, is already a great testament.”
Araneta said fans and critics should not forget that the Azkals, down three places at 162 in the latest International Football Federation (Fifa) rankings have already made a lot of heads turn when they made Philippine history by reaching the second round of the World Cup qualifiers.
The Azkals have crushed Sri santiagoLanka on 5-1 aggregate in the first round early this month to reach the second round – a feat no Philippine team has achieved since the country started competing in the World Cup qualifiers in 1950.
Araneta said the Azkals are set to compete in the four-team Long Teng Cup in Taiwan in September against Hong Kong, Macau and the host nation.
In October, the PFF will host a four-nation invitational tourney with Malaysia and Singapore confirming participation and the last slot going to either Thailand or Vietnam. The event will be sponsored by Asia Brewery Inc.
In November, Azkals coach Michael Weiss will lead the Under-23 football team in its bid to win a first ever medal in the men’s football competition of the 26th Southeast Asian Games in Indonesia slated from Nov. 11-22 in the capital of Jakarta and Palembang.