By Cedelf Tupas
PLAYING a lead role in the continued rise of the national football team in the world rankings, Azkals manager Dan Palami stressed that there should be no letup for the squad and the program it has undertaken.
The Azkals ruled the four-nation Philippine Peace Cup last year for their first trophy in close to a century and, although they reached their all-time high ranking of No. 141 this month, they remain hungry for a major title, particularly the AFF Suzuki Cup and the AFC Challenge Cup.
A day after the International Football Federation released the latest rankings that saw the Azkals climb three spots, Palami could not help but look back at the time when he took the team under his wing four years ago when the Azkals were hovering near the 170th position.
Back then, support was hard to come by and the Azkals competed internationally with little fanfare—a far cry from the attention they have been getting now.
“It’s been a very rewarding journey,” said Palami, who is also involved with the Philippine Football Federation in his capacity as chair of the national team committee as well as the Philippine Homeless World Cup.
The Azkals won’t see action in a major tournament until the 2013 AFC Challenge Cup in the Maldives. A series of overseas training camps and top matches, including a Nov. 9 duel with United Arab Emirates, have been slated this year and early next year to whip the Azkals into fighting shape for the Challenge Cup.
The Challenge Cup champion will gain a berth in the AFC Asian Cup in 2015—one of Palami’s most cherished goals for the team.
“The rankings show we’re taking steps in the right direction,” he said. “But we always want to achieve more.
“We’re hoping that the success continues but of course, there is much work and resources to be put in the program.”
Palami is also involved in the preparation of the team for the Southeast Asian Games, helping out manager Rhayan Cruz, and giving several Under-23 Azkals like Mark Hartmann, Patrick Deyto, Amani Aguinaldo and Paolo Bugas spots in the lineup for the coming friendly with Indonesia on Wednesday.
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