By Olmin Leyba
With expectations running higher now as a result of their historic bronze medal feat in the last AFC Challenge Cup, the Philippine Azkals will make sure they are fully equipped and thoroughly prepared when they plunge into action in the AFF Suzuki Cup later in the year.
Azkals team manager Dan Palami said the target is to once more reach the semifinals of the premier football competition among ASEAN nations, but stressed they couldn’t afford a “crammed buildup” like the one they had prior to the Challenge Cup.
“We know if we have several months to prepare, so do the other countries, which means we have to be really focused (on the preparations),” Palami said during yesterday’s PSA forum at Shakey’s UN Avenue.
The Azkals, who placed third in the Nepal Challenge Cup despite “not-so-ideal” preparations, will get back on twice-a-week training by April 17 to jumpstart training for the Suzuki Cup. The meet is set in Thailand and Malaysia in November.
A 10-day camp in either Tagaytay or Cebu will be held late May to get them ready for three international friendlies set in June. The Philippine Football Federation has invited Indonesia for a June 5 fixture at Rizal Memorial, Vietnam and Thailand for a June 8 outing at the Panaad pitch in Bacolod, and China for a June 12 “Independence Cup” game at Rizal. So far, only China has confirmed but will supposedly send its Olympic team.
“We’re also scheduling two foreign camps, one in the Gulf and the other one, we’re still determining where, likely in Europe, sometime August. And the Long Teng Cup (in Chinese Taipei) in October will also be part of our preparations,” said Palami.
The milestone finish in the Nepal Challenge Cup raised the bar of expectations further, admitted the Azkals boss.
“Even before we left, we already set the bar high by saying our target was to be in the semis of the Challenge Cup and of course everybody wanted to believe us but really the expectations were not so high.
“But this time, I think we have to back up our words with really strong preparations and I think everybody in the team and all stakeholders know what’s at stake and what will put us to where we want to be,” he said.
Palami said they are taking a two-pronged approach to sustain the Azkals’ momentum.