By Olmin Leyba
MANILA, Philippines - While the Philippine Azkals look ahead to vying in next year’s Fifa World Cup qualifiers, the nation’s under-23 squad will also embark on their own tough mission aimed at the Rio Olympics.
The U-23 Azkals will compete in the qualifiers for the AFC U-23 Championship 2016, the designated qualifying meet in Asia for the Olympiad in Rio.
They will have their hands full in the group qualifiers slated March 2015, though, as they found themselves bracketed in Group G along with North Korea, Southeast Asian power Thailand, and Cambodia after last week’s official draw.
The winners of the 10 groups, as well as the five best second-placers and host Qatar will advance to the tournament proper in January 2016. The top three teams in the main event of the AFC U-23 tilt will move on to the 2016 Olympiad.
The Pinoy booters (U21 team) last played in the Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy (HBT) in Brunei, where they posted four points on a win, a draw and two losses. Last month, the squad coached by Australian Jim Fraser underwent training for 15 days at Osaka’s J-Green training facilities.
The Azkals will begin their World Cup quest in June 2015 yet in the first round of the qualification tilt.
The draw for the 40-nation field will be held April 2015, with teams divided into eight groups of five.
Under the new format, the Azkals expect to play four home games, giving them the needed boost from their supporters.
Meanwhile, Filipino clubs Global FC and Ceres La Salle FC will also see action internationally in 2015 at the AFC Cup, the continent’s second tier tourney for clubs.
Global FC, the United Football League (UFL) champs, was awarded a berth in Group G, where they take on either Yadnarbon or Yangon United of Myanmar, South China of Hong Kong, and Pahang FA of Malaysia.
Ceres, the UFL FA Cup holders, was granted a slot in playoff/preliminary round. The Bacolod-based club will dispute a berth in Group E with Mayiza Sports and Recreation of Maldives in February 2015.