By Cedelf P. Tupas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
ANILA, Philippines — This early, the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) is already plotting a busy year 2012 for the Azkals, who will be playing more international friendlies and could possibly battle Europe-based clubs at home.
PFF president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta Sunday said that they will be capitalizing on the five international friendly windows next year to keep the Azkals sharp in preparation for the Suzuki Cup Asean Football Championships (AFC) in December 2012.
At the PFF board meeting Saturday, Araneta also disclosed plans to invite English Premiere League side Fulham FC – the club of Azkals goalkeeper Neil Etheridge – or another Premiership squad Blackburn for a friendly possibly in June next year.
“We are at the planning stage but we really want to make these (matches) happen,” said Araneta, who was able to get in touch with a Qatar-based events management firm that has links with Fulham and Blackburn.
Both Araneta and Azkals team manager Dan Palami stressed that playing matches during international break will further improve the national side since it will have the full complement of players during those dates.
The Azkals, currently preparing for the Long Teng Cup in Taiwan late this month and friendly matches against Singapore and Nepal, will also be in action in January after the PFF accepted the invitation of Spanish third division club CF Madrid for a friendly match between January 4 to 7.
Staging a friendly pitting the Azkals and reigning Asean champion Malaysia on February 29 will be a priority of the PFF as the national side prepares for the AFC Challenge Cup in Nepal.
Araneta also announced the expanded role Palami, who has been appointed head of the PFF marketing group during the board meeting.
Palami, who is also Leyte FA president, said he plans to package sponsorships for the Azkals and the PFF to make sure that the federation’s other programs will also get backers.
Palami will be joined in the marketing group by Laguna FA president Jun Pacificador and PFF treasurer Bonnie Ladrido.