By Olmin Leyba
MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Football Federation has arranged an early departure by the Azkals for Qatar for acclimatization as they gear up for their first away match in the Fifa World Cup qualifiers against Yemen slated June 16 at the Qatar Sports Stadium.
The Azkals will leave for Doha on June 12, just a day after kicking off their Group H bid with a home game against Bahrain at the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bocaue, Bulacan.
“For the game against Yemen, I talked to the Qatar Football Association to help our team acclimatize to the weather (and get more training time),” said PFF president Nonong Araneta.
Qatar is hosting all the home games of the Yemenis due to security concerns in Yemen.
Araneta said the PFF is also setting up arrangements for the Azkals’ next two assignments on the road, against North Korea at Kim Il-Sung Stadium in Pyongyang on Oct. 8 and versus Bahrain in their return match at Bahrain National Stadium on Oct. 13.
“Since we’ll have to go to China to apply for North Korea visa, the team will hold a training camp in Beijing prior to the game against North Korea. We’ve already coordinated with the Chinese Football Association regarding this,” said the PFF chief.
Flying from Pyongyang to Bahrain for the next fixture set in a few days’ time presents a logistical problem.
“There’s no direct flight from Pyongyang to Bahrain so we’re still looking for the best flight possible. We’re concerned the players would be weary from the flight once they reach Bahrain so we’re asking if we can move the game against Bahrain to a later date,” he said.
Uzbekistan is the Azkals’ fourth opponent in Group H. The Pinoy booters are scheduled to host the Uzbeks at the PSS on Sept. 8.
The PFF and Azkals management are fielding a full-strength team in a bid to reach the third round of the double round robin, home-and-away group play. The eight group winners as well as the four best second-placers among all the groups will advance to the third round of the WCQ as well as gain outright entry to the final round of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.