Busy Azkals not taking Group B opposition lightly as Challenge Cup nears
By Karlo Sacamos
THE Philippine men’s football team appears to be the busiest among its groupmates in the run-up toward the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup in May.
But that doesn’t mean Turkmenistan, Laos, and Afghanistan are not preparing rigorously for the competition featuring emerging Asian footballing nations, which stakes a lone ticket to the prestigious AFC Asian Cup next year.
While the Azkals have two friendlies and a bunch of international training camps ahead, a check of Fifa’s website revealed that Turkmenistan and Laos have yet to schedule their own, while Afghanistan has set only one match before the Challenge Cup.
But Azkals manager Dan Palami believes the Filipino booters are not the only ones giving importance to the Challenge Cup.
“I don’t think so. Now that the draw is done, teams will definitely start preparing,” he said on Thursday night after his club, Global FC, waltzed past defending champion Stallion, 5-1, in the United Football League at the Emperador Stadium.
Palami is bracing for tough opposition is in Group B as Turmenistan is a two-time Challenge Cup runner-up, Laos has mastered the Philippines in eight matches (seven wins and one draw), and Afghanistan is the reigning South Asian Football Champion.
“It’s a tough group to be in. But if we want to be champions, we have to beat everybody anyway,” the man behind the renaissance of Philippine football said.
Only the top two teams from each group — Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan, Palestine, and host Maldives comprise Group A—will advance to the semifinals.
“The team and coaching staff know how huge the task at hand is,” Palami said.