By Olmin Leyba
MANILA, Philippines - Philippine Football Federation president Nonong Araneta still onsidered 2015 a good year for the sport overall despite the Azkals’ string of losses in the Fifa World Cup qualifiers in the last quarter.
Parading a slew of high-quality recruits and returnees, the Azkals actually got off to a 2-0 start in Group H of the WCQ with victories over Bahrain and Yemen last June. This propelled Phl to its all time high of 124th in the July Fifa world rankings.
However, the Azkals went on a freefall thereafter. Although they held leader North Korea to a fighting 0-0 draw in Pyongyang, the Pinoy booters lost three matches along the way to crash out of the World Cup qualifiers with still two fixtures left in their schedule.
The Azkals, though, remain in the running for a berth to the next round of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup and they need to finish third in the group to advance.
“It’s also a good year for Philippine football. We started the World Cup qualifiers with a bang; unfortunately, we didn’t do well in the last three games. But hopefully, we can still advance to the Asian Cup Qualifiers in 2016. That’s our target now,” said Araneta.
The PFF chief expressed belief lack of “match fitness” took its toll on local-based Azkals in the October and November fixtures of the WCQ as their stints in the United Football League had long ended at the time.
“Siguro the UFL season ended too early. Nawala ng fitness ng players (The players weren’t as fit at the time of the WCQ). They ended September; nakita naman natin malayo yung fitness nila last June compared to October, November (We can see the disparity in fitness in their matches in June and in October-November),” he said.
“We’re asking the UFL to start their season in February and end in October because we’re looking forward to the Suzuki Cup by November),” he added.