by Jonas Terrado
December 3, 2014
December 3, 2014
The Philippine Azkals test their mettle against some of Asia’s cream of the crop as the 2018 FIFA World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers will start in June under a new format that was formalized recently by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
Under the new format, 40 Asian teams will be split into eight groups for the second round of the qualifiers with the top teams and the four second placers earning direct entry into the Asian Cup while advancing to the next round of the World Cup qualifiers.
The 24 best teams that were eliminated in the World Cup qualifiers will then dispute the remaining 12 spots for the Asian Cup.
Philippine Football Federation (PFF) President Nonong Araneta said that the AFC had agreed not to divide the group into zones after the PFF and other federations made the proposal for logistical reasons.
“The AFC said that they don’t want to divide Asia,” Araneta said, adding that the AFC may subsidize the trips of the teams that will play in faraway cities.
Under the new format, the Azkals are assured of playing eight matches, including four at home unlike in the old format which used a playoff-style system for the first few rounds.
Next year’s qualifiers will likely see the Azkals play at the new Philippine Stadium in Bocaue although it depends on whether the 25,000-seat venue will be fully operational.
The stadium had been proposed as the site for the home leg for the AFF Suzuki Cup semifinals against Thailand but officials decided to stage the match at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
Araneta declared that the Rizal Memorial’s artificial pitch will be 100 percent ready for the first leg as the Azkals look to end their 14-game losing skid against the favored Thais.
Ticketworld had already started selling tickets last Tuesday with the prices ranging from P100 to P1,000.