The Philippine Azkals once again topped the latest Fifa (international football association) rankings among Southeast Asian teams, but manager Dan Palami stressed the need to reinforce that status in the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup next month.
Despite two losses early this month to Bahrain (1-3) and North Korea (1-3), the Azkals still managed to move up one notch to No. 124 as the rankings also take into account results of the past three years.
But Palami said the rankings count for nothing now, especially if the Azkals underperform in the Suzuki Cup which the country is hosting for the first time.
“The rankings won’t count if we don’t play well in the Suzuki Cup,” Palami told the Inquirer. “At the end of the day, the Suzuki Cup is the barometer as to who is the best team in Southeast Asia.”
From underdogs in 2010 when they stunned Vietnam on their way to the Last Four for the first time, the Azkals are now one of the favorites after three straight semifinal appearances in the biennial tournament.
Azkals coach Thomas Dooley, however, expressed concern over the team’s performance against Bahrain and North Korea as the squad struggled defensively. They are short on options in defense following the retirement of several key players as well as injuries and club commitments.
The Azkals still have one friendly match—against Kyrgyzstan—to address their weaknesses before battling Singapore on Nov. 19 at Philippine Sports Stadium in Bulacan. They also take on Indonesia on Nov. 22, before wrapping up their group assignments versus defending champion Thailand three days later.
Vietnam, which is seeing action in Group B with Malaysia, Myanmar and the top team in the qualifying round, is the second-ranked team in the region at No. 138, followed by Thailand at No. 146.