By Cedelf P. Tupas
MANILA—A Philippine football team expected to be at full-strength faces Nepal in an international friendly on October 11 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila.
Philippine Football Federation president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta Friday said Nepal has confirmed the date to battle the Azkals.
It will mark the first time in more than a decade that the country is hosting an international friendly match.
Although the Philippines has hosted tournaments like the AFC Challenge Cup and more recently, the World Cup Qualifiers, it has not staged a friendly match at home since the Philippines lost to Estonia, 0-1, in November 1997 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
With Nepal’s confirmation and Singapore also agreeing to host the Azkals on October 7 at the Jelan Basar Stadium, the national team will be in for a tough grind with five matches in 11 days.
The Azkals, currently in Bacolod for a week-long training camp, will play three games in the Long Teng Cup in Kaouhsiung starting September 30.
National team manager Dan Palami is relishing the latest challenge for the Azkals, who lost to Kuwait, 1-3, in the second round of World Cup Qualifying at the Rizal Memorial Stadium last July 28.
“It’s a daunting task, but I’ve always thought that the only way we can improve is by playing more international matches,” said Palami.
“The good thing now is we have a pool of players in the team and only five from the Long Teng Cup team will be called up for the Singapore and Nepal matches.”
Europe-based players Neil Etheridge, Stephan Schrock, Jerry Lucena, Manny Ott and Paul Mulders will be available for the friendlies since the dates of the matches fall on the international break.
Dennis Cagara has already indicated his interest in playing for the Azkals in the two matches, Palami said.
“Anytime we have a full squad is always a plus for us because our players are not available all the time,” Araneta said.
The Nepal match, Palami said, will give the Azkals a preview of what to expect in the AFC Challenge Cup next year in Kathmandu.
“It will be a good preview for us to see their playing style and since they are ranked higher than us, it will be a good indicator of how we are from their level,” said Palami.
Palami said the friendly against the Singapore will be a gauge on how both teams have gone since the Azkals held the Lions to a 1-1 draw in their run to the Suzuki Cup semifinals last year.