By Cedelf P. Tupas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The Philippine Azkals hope to build on a “successful year” as they gear up for more exhibition matches against foreign clubs and two major international competitions next year.
“Despite some debacles, it’s been a very successful, active year for Philippine football,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami as he reflected on the Azkals’ year at the PSA Forum at the Shakey’s UN Avenue in Manila Tuesday.
“We look forward to a busy 2012. We hope to continue this momentum for us to really see the true potential of football in the Philippines.”
The Azkals qualified for the AFC Challenge Cup main tournament for the first time and also made the second round of World Cup Qualifying.
The Azkals also played the David Beckham-led Los Angeles Galaxy in a match that further boosted the sport’s popularity. But it came on the heels of the Under-23 squad’s poor showing in the Southeast Asian Games.
Looking to continue the headway made by the sport over the past year, the Azkals face a Spanish third division side next month at the Rizal Memorial Stadium and will again use the international friendly date on Feb. 29 to assemble their strongest squad in preparation for the AFC Challenge Cup in Nepal.
Palami said the Philippine Football Federation is eyeing 2010 World Cup qualifier New Zealand, Malaysia and Vietnam as possible opponents for the February friendly.
The Azkals are also seeing action in the Suzuki Cup Asean Football Championships in December next year.
Palami said gathering the best team possible for a tournament remains the biggest challenge for the Azkals, currently ranked 159 in the Fifa rankings.
“We can hold off strong competition when we have a complete lineup,” said Palami. “The biggest challenge is still bringing the best team together.”
The Azkals are in for a tough time in the March 9 to 13 Challenge Cup where they have been grouped with North Korea, Tajikistan and India. But Palami said there’s a good chance that the Azkals will have the likes of Stephan Schrock, Dennis Cagara, Jerry Lucena, Paul Mulders and Neil Etheridge for the tournament.
“I think there’s a good chance and we can haggle with the clubs (to release them) because the players will only miss one game,” said Palami.