MANILA, Philippines — A major trophy and a chance to face the finest teams in the continent.
The Philippine Azkals now have extra motivation in their bid to nail the AFC Challenge Cup in the Maldives in May following the Asian Cup draw that placed the tournament winners in a grouping alongside the last two continental champions, Japan and Iraq.
This year’s Challenge Cup winner will also join another Middle East powerhouse, Jordan, in Group D, which is considered one of the toughest brackets in the prestigious tournament in Australia next year.
The Philippines hasn’t played in a tournament alongside elite company in recent years and manager Dan Palami hopes that prospect will fire up the Azkals to achieve their goal in Maldives.
But before even thinking about the Asian Cup, Palami knows winning the eight-nation Challenge Cup will already be a daunting task with the Azkals grouped with Afghanistan, Laos and Turkmenistan.
“We’re leaving no stone unturned to realize Philippine football’s dream of playing in the AFC Asian Cup,” he said.
“I’m all for it (making the Asian Cup),” said goalkeeper Neil Etheridge. “I want to go to Australia.”
Meanwhile, the Azkals have parted ways with assistant coaches Edwin Cabalida, Edzel Bracamonte and Rolando Pinero, following a Philippine Football Federation directive to have only AFC “A” licensed coaches work with the side.
The Azkals management team plans to fill the coaching void by tapping former national coach Aris Caslib to be the lead deputy to coach Thomas Dooley.