WHEN Dan Palami first took over the reign of the Philippine men’s football team in early 2010, he envisioned a minimum of five years before the group considered as minnow internationally can reach the top spot in the Southeast Asian rankings.
Only three years after and the Filipino booters are now the benchmark of Asean football.
The Azkals manager could not be any more proud.
“That was the goal (five years) I had set for myself,” Palami told Spin.ph on Friday over the phone from Cebu where he catered to his family who recently evacuated from native Tacloban after the province was ravaged by super-typhoon Yolanda.
“And to have achieved that before the five-year period gives me some pleasure and somehow allows me to think that we’ve been running the national team properly,” added the 43-year-old businessman, the CEO of APT Global Inc, a railway engineering company that handles the maintenance of LRT 1 and 2 in Manila.
The Azkals continued their rise to international relevance on Thursday when they jumped four spots to their best-ever Fifa (International Football Federation) ranking in history at 133rd in the world.
The Filipinos maintained their lead over fellow Southeast Asian teams Myanmar (140th), Thailand (142nd), Singapore (154th), Malaysia and Vietnam (158th), Indonesia (162nd), Laos (163rd), Cambodia (188th), Brunei (189th), and Timor Leste (189th).
On a larger scale, Palami, said the latest ranking, which takes into consideration the tournament results of the last few months and the last three years, is an affirmation of the hard work the team has put in.
“I think this rank serves as a confirmation of what we have been saying that the Philippines could really be one of the powerhouses in Southeast Asia and even Asia.
“But we cannot rest on being number one,” the Azkals boss was quick to add. “At the end of the day, being number one is not enough. We have to prove ourselves on the pitch. We have to play according to how we are ranked. And that’s what we’ll continue to do.”
To sustain their rise, Palami said he and the Philippine Football Federation are looking at a tournament in Saudi Arabia against “strong club teams and an MLS (Major League Soccer) side” for the Azkals in January.
The celebrated team has also confirmed its attendance in a four-nation invitational tournament in Pakistan in February.
Palami has been in and out of the Queen City of the South since Yolanda struck and left thousands of people dead and missing to coordinate evacuation and relief efforts.
He is back in Cebu also to celebrate his parents’ wedding anniversary and his father’s successful heart operation.