By Olmin Leyba
MANILA, Philippines - Philippine Azkals coach Thomas Dooley looks forward to staying at the helm and calling the shots for the Pinoy booters as they set forth to bigger battles this year, particularly the all-important 2018 Fifa World Cup Asian qualifiers.
“The whole year will be very exciting and very important for us because of the World Cup qualification (tournament),” Dooley, who has agreed to a two-year extension with the Azkals, said in the radio program “The Football Connection” on dzSR over the weekend.
The Azkals will compete in the second round of this year’s Asian qualifiers, where eight groups of five nations each will play round-robin, home-and-away matches. The group winners and the four best second-placers will advance to the next year’s third round along the higher-seeded nations.
“We’ll have eight games and we have to finish first or second in our group to continue (to the next round of the qualifiers) and that’s the key for us this year,” said Dooley, who steered Phl XI to a runner-up finish in the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup and a third semifinal stint in the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup on his first year at the helm in 2014.
The draw for the World Cup qualifiers will be held in April with the first set of second-round matches slated June 11 and 16. Succeeding pairs of matches will be staged September, October and November.
Phl XI is guaranteed four home matches in this campaign and Dooley hopes more Pinoy crowd support will come in.
“We hope fans will go to see the games live. It (crowd support) is very important in football. You could see the difference when we played in Thailand (Suzuki Cup semis). In two days, they actually sold out 60,000 tickets and that made it very, very difficult for us to play there. When we had our semifinal at home and we played in front of 7,000, there’s no pressure for them,” said Dooley.