WITH the present pool of players and the country hosting the tournament, a coach with international experience firmly believes that the Philippine Azkals have a “70-30” chance of making a historic maiden appearance in the finals of the ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup.
“There are a lot of talented players now. Most are playing for United Football League clubs,” Mark Mangune, former assistant coach of the national women’s team and the Loyola Meralco Sparks, noted.
“With the country hosting the tournament, there is a 70-30 chance we can make to the Suzuki Cup finals for the first time.”
Mangune pointed out “players will always perform at a higher level in front of a hometown crowd. They leave everything on the field,” and urged all Filipino sports fans to troop to the Philippine Sports Stadium in the Bocaue, Bulacan.
A familiar fixture in local football and known by his shiny bald head, Mangune bared that he would soften ride his motorcycle in whatever conditions to Bulacan just to watch the Azkals go up against foreign opposition.
“I may just be one voice but if all of us sports fans fill the Philippine Sports Stadium and root for the Azkals, we can expect great things to happen,” he said. “With God’s help, this is a big opportunity for all of us together achieve another historic breakthrough in Philippine football.”
With Turkmenistan withdrawing from a friendly with the Nationals scheduled for today at the PSS due to injuries to its players, the Azkals will have their first tuneup match on Sept. 6 against Kyrgyzstan in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek.
The charges of American coach Thomas Dooley open their campaign in Group A of the Suzuki Cup against Singapore on Nov. 19, followed by the match versus Indonesia three days, before facing defending champion Thailand on Nov. 22 for its last group assignment.
The Filipinos have reached the Suzuki Cup semifinals thrice, losing to Indonesia in their semifinal debut in 2010, to Singapore in 2012, and 2014 to Thailand.
With the Philippine Football Federation pulling all stops in hosting the Suzuki Cup group stage, the Azkals find themselves in the best position of reaching the finals of the region’s premier men’s football tournament for the first time, and possibly all the way to their inaugural championship.