By Karlo Sacamos
THE Philippine men’s football team is hoping to get a favorable response from Hong Kong with regards to plans for an international friendly as the Azkals step up their preparations for the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup qualifiers next month in Manila.
The Azkals, who stayed at 147th in the latest Fifa rankings released on Thursday, remain short of competition as their first and only friendly of the year came two weeks ago in a 1-0 victory over Myanmar in Yangon.
But the Filipino booters now look forward to a matchup with Hong Kong, which moved seven places up to 156th, a ranking which still belies the squad’s true stature.
“They’re quite a strong team now,” Azkals manager Dan Palami said of Hong Kong, which drew with Uzbekistan in an Asian qualifying tournament in the opponent’s home turf recently. “It speaks a lot about the quality of their team.”
A definite date and venue has yet been set but Palami, who is waiting for their potential opponent’s reply this week, is hoping that Hong Kong agrees to play in the country at the soonest possible time.
The relationship between Asian neighbors, however, has been rocky after a hostage crisis in Manila led to the deaths of eight Hong Kong tourists in 2010.
Hong Kong declined the PFF’s invitation to play in the Philippine Football Peace Cup last September, a month after Hong Kong’s security bureau maintained its 'black' travel alert that discouraged its residents from traveling to the country.
“I think the scars were still fresh (regarding) the problem we had with some of their tourists before,” Palami said.
If plans don’t push through, Palami said the PFF is continually looking for friendlies against stronger teams, especially against Eastern-European countries “so that we could be more familiar with the Eastern-European football style.”
“I know it’s a long way for them so we’re not sure if they’ll accept the invitation,” Palami said. “But hopefully even just one (will accept) because I’m sure they also want to test their game against a Southeast Asian team.”
The Azkals are particularly preparing for Turkmenistan, the Eastern-European squad considered their toughest opponent in the Challenge Cup qualifiers from March 22 to 26 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
Turkmenistan, ranked 121st in the world, denied the Filipinos a historic finals appearance in the 2012 edition of the Challenge Cup after it rallied from a one-goal deficit to stun the Azkals, 2-1, last March.