MANILA, Philippines - After capping what they perceived as a “very successful year” with a losing game against David Beckham and MLS Cup titlist LA Galaxy, the Philippine Azkals are eyeing more friendlies against international teams next year, including possible matches against European clubs.
“We’re looking at a very busy calendar for 2012, which is all part of our plan to really allow the Azkals to play together in more games and achieve chemistry,” Azkals team manager Dan Palami said during yesterday’s PSA Forum.
Major tournaments up in 2012 are the AFC Challenge Cup in Kathmandu, Nepal in March and the AFF Suzuki Cup in Malaysia and Thailand in November, as well as a Cup being planned by a sponsor in May.
In between, the Azkals (159th) will look to arrange friendlies with higher-ranked national teams during the five international match days set by Fifa for 2012, beginning Feb. 29 with Vietnam (134), Malaysia (155) and New Zealand (119) as prospective opponents.
And in the wake of the Azkals’ hosting of Beckham and the Galaxy, Palami bared initial talks with officials of a second or third division Spanish club for a possible friendly tentatively on Jan. 7, also at Rizal. He declined to name the club at this point.
“They (Spanish club) are expanding right now and part of their expansion and promotion program is to look for a country where they can actually do a friendly. And I’m glad that because of the result of our LA Galaxy hosting, I think they’re looking forward to coming over and play the Philippines,” Palami said.
Efforts are also being made to work out a possible friendly with high-profile clubs from England.
“We’re not at liberty to reveal that, as we’re still negotiating. Those are English Premier League clubs, it’s still being negotiated, but hopefully they’ll come over,” he said.
The planned friendly against Vietnam, Malaysia or New Zealand on Feb. 29 – a Fifa date in which all players in clubs are allowed to join their respective national teams – will serve the Azkals in good stead.
Aside from helping achieve cohesion in preparation for their AFC Challenge Cup campaign beginning March 9, the friendly will give the Azkals the opportunity to improve on their ranking.
The Azkals have enjoyed a renaissance of sorts, beginning with their 2-0 upset of Vietnam and a star-making semis appearance in the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup in Dec. 2010. In 2011, Phl hurdled the qualifiers en route to a berth to the 2012 Challenge Cup main tourney, and for the first time advanced to the second round of the Fifa World Cup Asian Qualifiers, playing Kuwait.
“Despite some debacles, I think we could fairly say it’s been a very active year, a very successful year for Phl football and we hope to continue the momentum in 2012 and see the true potential of the Phl in so far as the sport is concerned,” Palami said.