MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine national football team will begin its training camp for a tough AFC Challenge Cup campaign early January, with the hope of joining the squad for the tournament.
Philippine Azkals head coach Michael Weiss revealed that the team will have two and a half months of preparation for the Challenge Cup, where they were drawn into a tough group featuring North Korea, Tajikistan and India, all previous winners of the tournament.
"We start training in January...We have two and a half months and we will be working very, very hard," Weiss said.
The Azkals hope to draw from their experience of playing against the Major League Soccer (MLS) Cup champions Los Angeles Galaxy, who routed them 6-1 last Saturday at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
The PH XI were impressive in the first half, playing aggressively against stars like David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane. Although Beckham and Mike Magee gave the Galaxy a 2-0 lead, the Azkals were able to score courtesy of Phil Younghusband in the 41st minute.
Weiss said the Azkals team that came out in the first half was the one he wanted to see.
"It's the way I want to see the team: sharp, aggressive, concentrated, alert," he said.
But the Azkals' performance dropped in the second half, when the Galaxy scored four goals to turn a close game into a rout.
Weiss said the second half showed him what the team needed to work on.
"We have to work on our conditioning. Physically, we could see that many players, after 60 minutes, dropped extremely," he said. "There is also a lack of concentration, we make simple mistakes."
He added that the Azkals must be willing to work hard, or risk getting "torn apart" by the stronger teams in their group.
Weiss also admitted that they face an uphill climb in terms of getting the Europe-based players to join the squad for the Challenge Cup.
"We are not in the comfortable position to get all the professionals, I am working very hard to get at least some of them," he said. "At the same time, I work with the locals and the players based in the Philippines."
Phil Younghusband and Chieffy Caligdong, meanwhile, said they are not all that worried about the tough draw the team got in the cup.
"It's a very difficult group, but that's the sort of standard we're looking into progressing to," Younghusband said.
Younghusband stressed the importance of getting the professional players in Europe and having a good training camp.
"I think if we have all our players together and have a good preparation before it, we have a decent chance of upsetting some teams," he said.
"Hindi kami natatakot sa group namin against North Korea, Tajikistan and India," Caligdong said. "Nilagay kami dun dahil alam nila na malakas ang Pilipinas."
"Hindi tayo nilagay dun para tambakan, kundi para manalo," he added.
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