13 October 2011

Azkals need rock-solid team for AFC

MANILA, Philippines - After ending their 2011 campaign with a 4-0 rout of Nepal Tuesday night, the Philippine Azkals hope to assemble a team that’s as competitive as the full-strength side that played two recent international friendlies for next year’s AFC Challenge Cup.

The Azkals took advantage of the Fifa international match days from Oct. 7-11 to bring in Europe-based players Neil Etheridge, Rob Gier, Jerry Lucena, Jerry Cagara and Paul Mulders for Phl’s friendlies with Singapore and Nepal. During Fifa calendar days, clubs tend to release players to their national teams.

But since the Challenge Cup slated March 3-18, 2012 in Nepal is not in the Fifa calendar, Phl football officials may have to double their efforts to convince the Euro clubs to let their players re-join the Azkals in that meet.

“There’s no assurance yet that they’ll be available for the Challenge Cup so we’ll try to talk to the clubs to release the players,” Philippine Football Federation president Nonong Araneta said.

He said the plan is to ask for a club player like Mulders or Stephan Schrock for only one game or two, not the entire run of the Challenge Cup. The Azkals will play three games in the eliminations and an additional two if they reach the semifinals.

“The (Euro-based) players themselves are looking forward to coming back, and they will help us talk to their clubs and try to work out an arrangement,” Araneta said.

The Azkals have returned to their respective local and foreign clubs and are set to return to camp by January 2012.

Araneta said the PFF will try to set more international friendlies next year.

“Cohesion is still one of our main concerns. The talent, skills are there but we still need more games to play together to be very competitive,” he said.


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