By Olmin Leyba
MANILA, Philippines - Moving on from the row stemming from the spat involving players Stephan Schrock and Dennis Cagara and coach Thomas Dooley, the Philippine Azkals look forward to an intensive training program in the next four months to gear up for their title drive in the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup.
The Azkals, who will get back into training on Aug. 18, will play against strong rivals led by Asian Cup-bound Palestine in the Philippine Football Peace Cup next month. After this, they head to the US and Canada for training in October, and hold another camp in Qatar before plunging into action in Asean’s premier tournament in November.
“We are currently ranked no. 1 in SEA in the FIFA rankings and I just hope that we live to that ranking when we play in the Suzuki Cup. That’s the challenge that we have given to ourselves as a team, that’s a challenge that we want to conquer in this very important tournament,” said team manager Dan Palami.
“The plan is really simple: to win every game that we play. In order for us to do that, we need to prepare. I think the preparation that we are planning to have is better than the preparations that we had so far,” he added.
Now on its third edition, the Peace Cup slated Sept. 1-9 at Rizal Memorial gets tougher this time with Palestine, the Azkals’ tormentor in the last Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup, headlining the cast. Tough squads Myanmar, which has made strides in the region and Chinese-Taipei, which defeated the Pinoys last year, will also provide challenge.
“The Peace Cup is also a preparation for Suzuki Cup and we will be able to determine how far we need to go in terms of the extent or the intensity of the training that the coach wants after the Peace Cup. So the Peace Cup is a gauge for us on where or how to go about the preparations for the Suzuki Cup,” said Palami.
For his part, Dooley said: “The competitions that we have is perfect. We have some good competition in the first two games (Chinese Taipei and Myanmar) that are very important for us to prepare in our game against Palestine. Hopefully we can do something and win that game at least at home.”
After the Peace Cup, arrangements are being made for a training camp in US and Canada on Oct. 6-14 with friendlies against the Canadian national team and the US Olympic team. One more camp in the Gulf is being eyed prior to the Nov. 22-Dec. 20 Suzuki Cup in Hanoi.
The Azkals are bracketed with host Vietnam, Indonesia and the runner-up of the coming qualifying rounds.
“I think on the paper it looks like we have an easier group. We’re not facing the strong ones. I think we need to prepare every game. We cannot just look at the names and expect to win those games. It’s all about performance, all about preparations and who wants to win the game most,” said Dooley.
The Azkals reached the semis the last two editions and want no less than the crown this time.
“Anything is possible. You can see it in the last two semifinals but we have to win it now. This is the kind of pressure we have to live with,” said Dooley, who had also declared he won’t have Schrock, whom he described Schrock as “unprofessional and selfish,” and Cagara in his team.