By Karlo Sacamos
THE Philippine men’s football team begins its Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup Qualifiers campaign on the sidelines on Friday after the pullout of Brunei was made official.
The pullout makes it tougher for the Azkals to advance to the main tournament next year in Maldives, but also gives them extra time to train and scout their two other opponents, Cambodia and Turkmenistan.
“It’s difficult to understand how a serious football national can back out before the tournament starts, but it is what it is,” Azkals coach Michael Weiss said on Thursday.
“This gives us two more days to prepare and adjust the team built in the last years,” the German mentor added.
Opening day at the Rizal Memorial Stadium now features only one game between Turkmenistan and Cambodia at 4:30 p.m.
PFF general secretary Ed Gastanes said the AFC has contacted the two match commissioners on Thursday noon to formally inform them of Brunei’s withdrawal from the three-day tournament.
Gastanes said he also received a call from his Brunei counterpart, who gave him the same “unavoidable circumstances” excuse that was stated as the reason for the country’s pullout in the Brunei Times report on Wednesday.
“In fact, Brunei even asked for an early arrival on (March) 19th. That’s why it came as a surprise to us that they decided to withdraw,” said the lawyer, who expects to hear more from the AFC about the consequences of the withdrawal of Brunei.
The development could also mean that top-choice goalkeeper Neil Etheridge can only play one game in the tournament as the Filipino-British booter still has to serve a one-game suspension he incurred due to misconduct in a friendly last year.