MANILA, Philippines–The Philippine Azkals wrapped up their weeklong camp in Bahrain Thursday with coach Thomas Dooley expressing satisfaction at the progress of the side five days before the AFC Challenge Cup.
The Azkals open their campaign in Group B against Afghanistan in Addu City, Maldives, on Tuesday and as much as Dooley would love to have more training time with the squad, the American believes they have made the most out of their stint in Bahrain.
While stars like Stephan Schrock and Neil Etheridge linked up early with the Azkals in Manama, defenders Rob Gier and Juani Guirado skipped the camp as both waited for the birth of their respective child in England and Spain.
Jerry Lucena joined the team only Friday, while Dennis Cagara is still tied up with his club.
Javier Patino, the prolific Fil-Spanish striker, has been left out of the 23-man squad after his Thai club, Buriram, rejected the Philippine Football Federation’s plea to have him released for national team duty.
“Camp is okay, but I wish I would have been with the team earlier in Bahrain and I wish I would have had all the players from the beginning,” Dooley told the Inquirer.
“The more you have the team the better it is, but I’m sure that everybody who is on the field will give everything they have to make the fans happy.”
The former United States World Cup skipper who took the Azkals job in February is making it clear that he’s not making the players’ absence an excuse in the Challenge Cup, which dangles a spot in the prestigious AFC Asian Cup next year.
The Azkals lost to Bahrain club Al-Muharraq, 1-2, over the weekend which turned out to be their only tuneup match of the camp.
Still, Azkals manager Dan Palami believes they have “made strides” in the camp.
“I’d say we’re at 7 (on a scale of 10), with our Malaysia game in Cebu being a 5,” he said.