By Karlo Sacamos
THE rare opportunity to face Asia’s finest looms for the Philippine men’s football team.
Japan, one of the region’s powers in the sport, has been bracketed in Group D of the 2015 Asian Cup along with fellow formidable squads Jordan and Iraq after Wednesday’s formal draw at the Sydney Opera House in Australia.
One more slot is reserved for the winner of the upcoming Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup, where the Azkals are vying for top honors.
And fans hope the enticing scenario of battling Asia’s cream of the crop, especially against the World Cup-bound Japanese booters who are ranked 43rd in the world, can inspire the Filipinos to conquer the task at hand.
The 130th-ranked Philippines is grouped with Turkmenistan, Laos, and Afghanistan in the tournament for emerging Asian footballing nations set in Maldives in May.
“If that’s not enough motivation for us to win the AFC Challenge Cup, then I don’t know what is. Imagine our Azkals on the pitch vs them (Japanese),” staunch national team fan Jaron Genota tweeted.
Jordan is ranked 66th, while Iraq 103rd in the latest Fifa rankings.
Asian No. 1 Iran is in Group C of the Asian Cup with United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Bahrain, while Uzbekistan leads the cast in Group B, which also has Saudi Arabia, China, and South Korea.
Host Australia, South Korea, Oman, and Kuwait comprise Group A.