By Cedelf P. Tupas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—With their Europe-based standouts’ availability uncertain in important tournaments next year, forming a stronger core based in the Philippines will be the utmost priority of Azkals coach Michael Weiss and manager Dan Palami.
Fil-Dutch midfielder Paul Mulders, Fil-Danish defenders Jerry Lucena and Dennis Cagara, Germany-based Stephan Schrock and goalkeeper Neil Etheridge are regulars in their clubs in Europe, which has the option whether or not to release them for national team duty if matches do not fall on the international break.
“The challenge is ensuring that they will be available for every game, especially the Challenge Cup and the Suzuki Cup,” said Palami, after the Azkals, drawing superb performances their Europe-based stars, demolished Nepal, 4-0, in an international friendly last Tuesday at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
The matches against Singapore, which ended in a 0-2 loss for the Azkals, and Nepal fell on the international break, making the players available for national team duty.
The injured Schrock, impressive in two matches so far for the Azkals, missed the games, opting to rest in Germany.
“It’s very difficult because we have to keep the balance with the Azkals and the club,” Palami said.
“That’s why it is imperative for the coach that we build a stronger core based here so to stay competitive. The ideal is of course having everyone here including our players based in Europe.”
The Azkals’ core based in the Philippines are skippers Aly Borromeo and Chieffy Caligdong, Phil and James Younghusband, Anton del Rosario and Nate Burkey and Matthew Hartmann.
The players are currently seeing action in the fledgling United Football League.
Palami believes the Azkals can still surpass the performance against Nepal, where Phil Younghusband scored two goals.
“Every time the team gets to play together, the team gets better,” said Palami. “It was only the second time that the team has come together but you could see the difference in the movement of the ball.”
The Azkals manager paid tribute to the trio of Mulders, Cagara and Lucena which missed the second leg of the World Cup Qualifiers against Kuwait because of injury and club commitments.
“They brought in a lot of experience and a lot of quality in handling the ball,” said Palami. “They gave us the options. Mulders was very dominant at midfield.”
Mulders set up the first goal for Younghusband, while Cagara, marauding on the left flank, assisted on the second goal before kicking off the sequence that led to the fourth goal from Hartmann in the 89th minute.