THE PHILIPPINE Azkals won’t have much time to lick the wounds of their recent defeat as they plunge back to training Jan. 6 for the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers that will be held at Rizal Memorial Stadium in March.
Determined to be in top form, the Azkals will have at least two months to prepare for the tournament that serves as the gateway for next year’s final tournament, which will reward the champion with a spot in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia.
The Azkals qualified from the AFF Suzuki Cup’s Group of Death to the semifinals only to drop a 0-1 decision to eventual champion Singapore on aggregate early this month.
It was the second straight semifinal appearance for the Azkals, who also reached the last four of the AFC Challenge Cup finals early this year in Nepal.
“The year 2012 was a banner year for the team,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami. “There will be plenty of challenges next year. But rest assured, the team will continue to work hard and not letup to give the country a major football title.”
“We don’t have much time to mourn because we are already in the middle of preparing for the AFC Challenge Cup,” said Azkals coach Michael Weiss.
“It is a tournament for emerging nations in Asia and our goal is to get first place [in the qualifiers] on home soil in order to succeed in 2014 and win the tournament.”
Emphasizing the importance of the Challenge Cup, Palami said preparations for the tournament will also include a week-long camp in the Gulf region in February.
The Azkals have trained there in the past, preparing for the Suzuki Cup by playing friendly matches against Bahrain and Kuwait.
Aside from the topnotch facilities, Palami said the Gulf is an ideal location as the Europe-based players will not have to make a longer trip to link up with the squad, unlike when the camp is held in the Philippines.
“We are still hoping to get a federation to host the team so we could save on costs,” said Palami, who hopes to utilize the Feb. 6 friendly date to play an international match in the middle of the camp.