24 January 2019

Philippine Premier League revamps club football

by Beatrice Go

The PPL is a new entity, it’s a rebirth, it's a reboot,' says PPL commissioner Bernie Sumayao


MANILA, Philippines – The country's club football scene looks for a fresh start with the launch of the Philippine Premier League (PPL).
PPL commissioner Bernie Sumayao laid down his plans for the league that is targeted to start at the end of March 2019.
"The PPL is a new entity, it’s a rebirth, it's a reboot," said Sumayao in a press conference on Wednesday, January 23.
"We don’t have any political agenda, we don’t have any financial agenda. Our agenda is to be able to reach the same level as what we see around today – that means the other leagues around the region."
The league will be adapting a triple round-robin format where each leg will play 27 matches that will be in accordance with Asian Football Confederation (AFC) rules of having a club play minimum of 25 matches in a football leg to qualify for the AFC Cup.
PPL will also retain the Copa Paulino Alcantara where the teams will be divided into two groups and the finalists will face each other for a slot in the AFC Cup.

The 2019 football season is slated to end on December 7.
Interested clubs
Eleven clubs have signified interest, but the target is to have 8 clubs participating for this year.
These include the defunct Philippines Football League (PFL) champion Ceres Negros, inaugural Copa Paulino Alcantara titlist Kaya-Iloilo, Stallion Laguna, Green Archers United Globe and Philippine Air Force.
"We are still in the process of putting together all the documentation and by the 15th of February, we will be able to make the announcement on the final list," said Sumayao.
The teams will also be evaluated by their financial viability in order to sustain their operational expenses.
According to Sumayao, instead of a franchise scheme, teams will pay an annual registration fee that will be a fraction of the cost from the last two years.
The league is also alleviating additional costs for teams by doing away with the home-and-away format of the PFL.
Instead, the triple round-robin league will have matches played in 3 to 4 grounds in Metro Manila. The University of Makati, with a new artificial turf, will be one of the main venues.
But the league still intends to hold centralized matches in provinces, possibily in the third leg of the season.
"The centralized league, our idea is to have them sponsored. Someone can sponsor the hotels, the accommodations, so the financial burden is lesser for the teams," said Sumayao.
"Basically they (the teams) only have to pay for the players’ salaries if we go for the centralized games."
Creating the 'fan experience'
The PPL will be launching a series of activations as they will be prioritizing fan engagement for Philippine football.
"We want to increase fan engagement that is because the fans here – the long suffering fans of Philippine football – there are a lot of frustrations on their part," lamented Sumayao.
"So in my own way, I thought about making that commitment to see where we can bring it, what level we can bring it, and bring it the resources that we have in order for [this development to happen], so to ease the frustration among our fans."
In order to target the younger audiences, the PPL looks to partner with music companies to attract the fans to the football venue – a strategy that has been proven to work in certain markets.
The enforcement of centralized matches will also pave the way for the PPL to organize event activations in the provinces.
"For example, on our third leg, we will hold it in a province like Cebu or Iloilo then we’ll have an actual event there for a couple of weeks. All the matches will be played in that specific location and that will become a massive community that we’ll have concerts, we will have fairs, we will have activations, fan engagement, we have players meet and greet," explained Sumayao.
"All these ideas put together will create a highly festive event in a particular area. And that’s what we really need to encourage to get people engaged in football."
With football events being held across the Philippines, the PPL and the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) are looking to collaborate with local government units (LGUs) to boost the country's grassroots program.
Fans can also tune in to PPL games on 5 Plus where the games will be shown live every Saturday from 7 pm to 9 pm.
With a new team handling the efforts to grow Philippine club football, the long term goal is to establish a multi-tier football league system in the country. – Rappler.com
https://www.rappler.com/sports/by-sport/football/221713-philippine-premier-league-revamps-club-football

23 January 2019

Ceres beefs up champs league roster

By:  


Bracing for an uphill climb in the AFC Champions League starting next month, Philippines Football League (PFL) champion Ceres-Negros added depth and quality to its squad after signing four new players for the coming season.
Anticipating the move of stars Patrick Reichelt and Manny Ott, who are reportedly set to sign for clubs overseas, the Busmen signed former Davao Aguilas players Dylan De Bruycker and Dennis Villanueva as well as Angelo Marasigan from Global FC.

Former Kaya Iloilo midfielder Miguel Tanton could turn out to be Ceres’ marquee signing as he’s set to fill the void to be left by Ott who, sources said, will be playing in the Thai League 1 next season.
The League 1, commonly known as T1, is Thailand’s premier football competition contested by 16 clubs and operates on a system of promotion and relegation to League 2.
A key cog for Kaya since 2015, Tanton, a midfielder, was part of the 23-man squad of the Azkals in the AFC Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
A versatile player who can play at midfield or in central defense, Villanueva proved instrumental in the Azkals’ qualification for the Asian Cup, but was unable to crack the squad of coach Sven Goran Eriksson.
De Bruycker played in the 2017 Southeast Asian Games in Indonesia while it will be Marasigan’s second stint with Ceres, which he played for in 2015.
The Busmen begin their campaign on Feb. 5 when they take on Yangon United of Myanmar in the preliminary round of Champions League qualifying at Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City. The winner of the match will take on Thai club Chiang Rai United in the next round.

Read more: https://sports.inquirer.net/335792/ceres-beefs-up-champs-league-roster-breaking#ixzz5dS0W2SpH

22 January 2019

Manny Ott signs for Thai club

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Azkal Manny Ott (Ceres-Negros fc) has signed for Thai League club Ratchaburi Mitrphol FC

Marco Casambre signs for Thai club

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Homegrown Marco Casambre (Global Cebu) has signed for Thai club Chainat Hornbill Fc

International Friendly : Stallion Fc 2-4 Sabah FA (Malaysia)

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Pics : Jeff Carmona Mondia

Stallion playing Ceres-Negros on Wednesday at Mc Kinley Stadium . Match time 6 pm

20 January 2019

Patrick Reichelt has signed for Malaysian club

Azkal Patrick Reichelt has signed for Malaysian club Melaka United.

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19 January 2019

Goodbye with a goal? Schrock hints at Azkals retirement

By:  - Reporter

DUBAI—If it was his final match wearing the Philippines kit, then Stephan Schrock made sure it was a memorable one—even though it ended in defeat in the AFC Asian Cup here.
The 32-year-old Schrock made history by scoring the country’s first ever goal in the competition in the second half of a 3-1 defeat to Kyrgyzstan on Wednesday night at Rashid Stadium here.


But the dynamic midfielder later hinted at retirement from the national team after the Azkals bowed out in the most prestigious competition in the continent.
“I feel like that was my final game for the Azkals,” Schrock told the Inquirer on Thursday.
“I had it in my mind to retire from (the national team) after this tournament because I’m 32 and I feel the body gets more aged with every major tournament. We have another long season ahead with Ceres-Negros. We will hardly get a break. I have a family as well and I wanted to see them more often than in the past three months.”
When Schrock floated in a free kick inside the area late in the second half, he was hoping that a teammate will redirect it on target.
Instead, Kyrgyzstan goalkeeper Kuzman Kadyrbekov, worried that Azkals striker Javier Patino might be able to make contact on the delivery, misjudged the flight of the ball, allowing Schrock’s free kick to bounce inside the six-yard box and into the roof of the net.
There was hardly any celebration from the Azkals, who were already trailing, 3-nil, before Schrock’s strike, although the goal was greeted by a loud roar from the Filipino gallery.
“Today, I realized more how historic that goal was actually because yesterday I was only thinking about getting two more (goals),” said Schrock, who came out of international retirement a few months ago.
“If I could change it, I would rather win and have someone else score for the Philippines.”

Read more: https://sports.inquirer.net/335002/breaking-goodbye-with-a-goal-schrock-hints-at-azkals-retirement#ixzz5d4EwXjhn

Azkals boss to make sure PH will return to continental tournament

By:  - Reporter

DUBAI—Whether it’s financial support or emotional attachment, perhaps no other person has invested on the Philippines men’s national team in its quest for international glory than Dan Palami.
That’s why the long-time Azkals manager was also quick to take responsibility on the team’s inability to reach the knockout round of the AFC Asian Cup here.


The Azkals lost all three matches in their group against higher-ranked foes, but a strong performance in the 1-0 defeat South Korea and a first-ever goal by Stephan Schrock in the competition will be among the positives that can be taken away from their debut in the continental showpiece event.
“The thing for me as a manager, I felt that we had actually a chance to get out of the group,” Palami said. “Maybe there were some other things that the management or the coaching staff could have done in order for us to get out of it, but we have to accept the result.”
Palami has been bankrolling the squad’s campaign along with the Philippine Football Federation for close to a decade. And a first-ever appearance in the Asian Cup remains the biggest achievement for the country in the sport.
“We’re happy and privileged to be part of this tournament, but we want to make sure that this won’t be the last time we join this tournament,” Palami said. “Our Under-22, Under-23 and senior teams will progress even further in the coming years.”
Palami hired Swedish coach Sven-Goran Eriksson for the AFF Suzuki Cup and the Asian Cup, and the former England mentor managed to lead the Azkals to two wins, two draws and five defeats.
Football director Scott Cooper, who lacked the coaching badges to handle the squad in a major tournament like the Asian Cup but spearheaded the start of the preparations until Eriksson took charge, will remain with the team.
“Coach Sven’s engagement ends in this tournament,” Palami said. “Meanwhile, we have our football director Scott Cooper taking the reins in the senior team as well as preparing for Under-22 and Under-23 tournament. It is going to be exciting times in the next months.”
The Under-22 side will see action in the Southeast Asian Games that will be hosted by the Philippines late in the year, while the Azkals are set to join the next cycle of World Cup qualifying


 https://sports.inquirer.net/335114/breaking-azkals-boss-to-make-sure-ph-will-return-to-continental-tournament#ixzz5d4ESs9Yw

17 January 2019

Azkals bow out of maiden Asian Cup tourney

by Beatrice Go

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Azkals ended their 2019 Asian Cup campaign after dropping their final group stage game against Kyrgyzstan, 3-1, as Vitalig Lux scored a hat-trick on Wednesday, January 16, at the Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai.
But even if the Philippine men's football team crashed to the bottom of Group C, Stephan Schrock netted in Philippines' first ever Asian Cup goal in the 80th minute.
Kyrgyzstan is still on track of advancing to the Round of 16 after finishing third in the group.
In the 24th minute, Vitalig Lux sent the Nationals into the doldrums when his shot found the back of the net thanks to an assist from Akhlidin Israilov.
Lux scored his second goal and doubled the lead in the 51st minute with an angled finish from Bekzhan Sagynbaev's assist in the center of the box.
The Kyrgyzstan striker sealed the win with a hat-trick as he capitalized on a rebound off the post in the 77th minute.
The entry of the Younghusband brothers added more firepower to the Azkals as Javier Patiño and Patrick Reichelt had chances to cut the deficit towards the end of the match.
Kyrgyzstan had a strong start to the match as it held most of the possession as the Philippines' backline had an off-day.

In the first half, the Azkals never established a clear threat in the attacking third and was running out of ideas on how to create chances. – Rappler.com
https://www.rappler.com/sports/by-sport/football/221161-asian-cup-results-philippines-kyrgyzstan-game-january-16-2019

16 January 2019

AFC Asian Cup - Kyrgyz Rep 3-1 Philippines

Match Day !
AFC Asian Cup
16 January 2019 – Kyrgyz Republic vs Philippines
Venue: Rashid Stadium, Dubai, UAE
Kick-off time: 5:30 PM local time (9:30 PM Manila time)
TV Channel: FOX Sports 2


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Asian Cup Knockout Berth Still Alive For Philippines MNT

The Philippine Men’s National Team may have had a forgettable outing against China PR last Friday, but the team still hopes to advance to the knockout stages of the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019.
After a formidable display against Korea Republic in the first game, the Azkals were given a reality check on the toughness of the tournament after losing to China, 3-0.
“This is the Asian Cup. These are the best teams in Asia, the best players in Asia. They’re the difference between winning and losing a game when you’ve got quality like that,” said Phil Younghusband.
Head coach Sven Goran Eriksson remained steadfast on the team’s chances of qualifying despite losing their first two matches.
“We have shown that we can play football,” said Eriksson. “We are not going home yet, and we will see what happens in the last group stage game (vs Kyrgyz Republic).”
The Philippines currently sit at the bottom of Group C with only one match left in the group stages. A win over the Kyrgyz Republic on Wednesday 16 January 2019 at the Rashid Stadium might propel the team to the Round of 16 as one of the four best third placed teams at the end of the group stages.
“We still have the Kyrgyzstan game. If we can get the three points there, then we have every chance of qualifying to the next round,” added Younghusband.
“We really want to advance,” echoed Stephan Schröck. “We have to beat Kyrgyz Republic to have that chance.”
http://pff.org.ph/2019/01/15/asian-cup-knockout-berth-still-alive-for-philippines-mnt/

15 January 2019

No guaranteed Round of 16 slot even if Azkals beat Kyrgyzstan

By: 

DUBAI—There is no guarantee that a victory in its last group match will be enough for the Philippines to reach the next round of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup.
But a strong finish can cap what has been a memorable debut so far for the Azkals here.

Currently in last place in Group C, the Azkals face Kyrgyzstan on Wednesday night at Rashid Stadium with both teams needing victories to stand a chance of progressing to the round of 16.
Making it to the next round as one of the top two teams in the group is already out of the equation for the Azkals, but qualifying as one of the four best third-placed squads is a scenario that is still alive.
The Azkals narrowly lost to South Korea, 0-1, in their opening match on Jan. 7, before falling to China, 0-3, at Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi. The match against China drew 16,000 fans, so far the most attended game in the tournament that did not involve host United Arab Emirates.
“The Kyrgyzstan match will be like a final for us,” said captain Stephan Schrock. “We have to finish with a really good performance, taking three points—and really hope for the best.”
The Philippines is one of eight winless countries in the tournament after all 24 teams have played their two matches. A draw will not be enough for both Kyrgyzstan and the Philippines to reach the next round.


Read more: https://sports.inquirer.net/334573/no-guaranteed-round-of-16-slot-even-if-azkals-beat-kyrgyzstan-breaking#ixzz5cctN5zty

11 January 2019

Azkals fall to China as Wu Lei scores brace

by Beatrice Go

MANILA, Philippines – Wu Lei lifted China to its second win in the 2019 Asian Cup over the Philippine Azkals, 3-0, on Friday, January 11 at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
China remains at the top of Group C with 6 points while the Philippines stays at the bottom with no point and a -4 goal difference.
China took the lead in the first half thanks to Wu's 40th minute goal that was taken just inside the box.
Wu doubled the lead in the 65th minute as Hao Junmin's cross found the Chinese Super League topscorer who converted a volley.
In the 80th minute, Yu Dabao added to the Azkals' heartbreak by heading the rebound into the back of the net.
The Azkals' second straight loss in the tournament puts in peril their chances to get out of the group stage.
The Philippines failed to capitalize on its good attacking spells which saw Patrick Strauss set up Javier Patiño for a shot on-target which got blocked by Feng Xiaoting in the 22nd minute.
During added time in the first half, Ingreso attempted to equalize with a left-footed strike from beyond the box which was saved at the top-center of the goal.
The Nationals failed to match China's momentum in the second half as the Chinese threatened the Azkals back line.
After conceding their third goal, Stephan Schrock created a chance to stun the Chinese with a cross to Patrick Reichelt but it missed the winger by a few seconds.

The Azkals will aim to close out the group stage with a must-win over third-placer Kyrgyzstan to keep their Round of 16 hopes alive. – Rappler.com
https://www.rappler.com/sports/by-sport/football/220786-asian-cup-results-philippines-china-game-january-11-2019

10 January 2019

AFC Asian Cup - Philippines vs China

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Preview - Group C: Philippines v China PR

Abu Dhabi: Friendship will take a backseat when Marcello Lippi and Sven-Goran Eriksson lock horns in the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 on Friday.

It is a friendship that started in the 1980s but China PR head coach Lippi and his Philippines counterpart Eriksson are both on a mission to ensure their teams enjoy a successful AFC Asian Cup.


China PR are on a better footing, coming from behind to defeat Kyrgyz Republic 2-1 on Matchday One while The Azkals were unfortunate to suffer a 1-0 defeat after a plucky display against Korea Republic.

Eriksson said Lippi was a good friend with whom he has played numerous matches against - in Italy and China PR, in a friendship that has seen many get-togethers.


"I respect him and he is a good friend but tomorrow at 5.30pm, our friendship will have to take a backseat for a while. I wish him well but not for tomorrow," said Eriksson, who has been tasked by the Philippines to ensure their maiden appearance in the AFC Asian Cup Finals is one to remember.


China PR will be tough opponents, especially as the last meeting between the two sides ended in an 8-1 win for the two-time AFC Asian Cup runners-up.


"I hope we don't lose 8-1 this time as that would be a disaster. We won't lose 8-1 because I am sure that we will give China PR a very good fight.


"The players are very excited about the match, especially after our performance against Korea Republic. This is a chance for them to prove themselves again.

"This generation of players have so much promise and I am sure that in 10 years, football will enjoy more importance in the Philippines," added Eriksson. 

The former England manager's stint ends after the AFC Asian Cup and Eriksson said he has enjoyed his tenure.


"It is a short stint but I liked the challenge. The players have been great and we have a job to do and we will do it."


Having coached Shanghai SIPG in the Chinese Super League, Eriksson has insight on the China team but the Swede said it won't be much of an advantage.


"Yes, I know Chinese football and I know three of the players in the squad but in today's game, there are no secrets. Lippi will know about us and we will know about China PR."
 
Lippi, who is also set to leave at the end of the AFC Asian Cup, said he is looking forward to facing an Eriksson-led Philippines.


"We have known each other since I was with Juventus and it will be great to face another team led by him. It will be a challenge but I believe in my team and we are confident of getting the job done.


"Three more points will seal our place in the knockout stage and the players are determined to improve on their performance against Kyrgyz Republic."


Good news for China PR is that striker Wu Lei is likely to shrug off the injury he is nursing as Lippi urged his players to play with the intensity they showed in the second half against Kyrgyz Republic.


"Philippines play a European style of football as they are very physical and strong. We have to match their style of play and I have been emphasising this to the players."


http://www.the-afc.com/asiancup/news/preview-group-c-philippines-v-china-pr

08 January 2019

07 January 2019

Azkals put on good performance in 0-1 defeat to favored Korea

by Sid Ventura



In a match almost everyone thought would end in a blowout loss, the Philippine Azkals played one of their most impressive matches in recent history, giving heavily favored South Korea all they could handle before conceding a 0-1 decision in their AFC Asian Cup debut at the Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Even though their first-ever match in Asia's most prestigious football tournament ended in defeat, it was a performance that exceeded expectations. Korea, after all, was runner-up to Australia four years ago and is ranked 53rd in the world compared to the Azkals' 116th. They enter this tournament as one of the favorites, and just six months ago shocked the world by upsetting defending champion Germany, 2-0, in the World Cup.
"In the first half I thought we played extremely well," defender Luke Woodland said after the match. "We're a good team. We want to go through."
The Azkals certainly looked like a good team, more than holding their own in the first half, with Alvaro Silva anchoring a solid back line that thwarted a Korean offense that had possession 82% of the time. They even created a chance in the 41st minute, with Javier Patiño volleying a lob from Daisuke Sato that goalkeeper Kim Syeung-Gyu had to work hard to deflect out. The Azkals' 5-4-2 formation gave their favored foes all sorts of problems, although on offense they generally lacked that one extra pass or touch to create chances.
The Azkals came out more aggressive at the start of the second half, and Patiño had an excellent chance in the 49th with a wide-open shot from inside the box that Kim had to dive to save.
Korea finally broke through in the 67th minute when Hwang Ui-Jo struck from close range on an assist from Hwang Hee-Chan. Hwang Ui-Jo nearly scored again in the 74th with only Michael Falksgaard to beat from five yards out, but the Azkals keeper did well to parry it out.
Still, it was a noteworthy result, with several players standing out. Aside from Silva and Patiño, Stephan Schrock put on a vintage performance in midfield, while Falksgaard manned the posts well.
The Azkals joined fellow newcomer Kyrgyzstan, which lost to China 1-2, in the cellar of Group F, but thanks to the low scoreline are still in position to claim one of the four slots in the knockout round reserved for third-placed teams.
The Azkals next take on China on January 11.
NOTES:
- Sven-Goran Eriksson made a last-minute change to the 23-man lineup, inserting defender Amani Aguinaldo for veteran Paul Mulders.
- Stephan Schrock wore the captain's armband for this historic match.
- Phil Younghusband did not start and entered the game in the 88th minute
http://tv5.espn.com/story/_/id/25705376/azkals-drop-0-1-decision-powerhouse-korea

PHL Azkals begin historic AFC Asian Cup bid today

By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
Senior Reporter
THE HISTORIC AFC Asian Cup campaign of the Philippine men’s national football team begins today as the Azkals play their debut group stage game in the continental football spectacle in the United Arab Emirates.
Playing for the first time ever in the Asian Cup, the Philippines takes on South Korea in a Group C match at the Al-Maktoum Stadium in Dubai at 9:30 p.m. (Manila time) where it hopes to set its bid to a good start.
The Azkals are also set to face China and Kyrgyzstan in the grouping with the top two teams automatically advancing to the next round.
Today’s game marks the first time that the Philippines is facing South Korea in 39 years.
The last time the two teams met, the Koreans lorded it over the Filipinos, winning, 8-0. The Taeguk Warriors have a 7-0 record against the Philippines and have scored 35 total goals and not allowing any to the Southeast Asian squad.
For this year’s Asian Cup, Azkals coach Sven-Goran Eriksson are banking on the efforts of a 23-man team, most of whom are already staples with the team.
Called up were goalkeepers Nathaniel Villanueva, Michael Falkesgaard and Kevin Ray Hansen, and defenders Alvaro Silva, Carli De Murga, Daisuke Sato, Stephan Palla, Luke Woodland, Adam Tull, Curt Dizon and Paul Mulders.
Also part of the team are midfielders John-Patrick Strauss, Iain Ramsey, Manuel Ott, Kevin Ingreso, Stephan Schrock, Miguel Tanton, James Younghusband and Mike Ott, and forwards Jovin Bedic, Phil Younghusband, Patrick Reichelt and Javier Patino.
Top goalkeeper Neil Etheridge is not part of the Azkals for the Asian Cup because of his commitment with Cardiff City in the Premier League in Europe.
Despite the uphill battle facing them right at the onset of group play, Mr. Eriksson said it would not let it stop them from trying to make waves in the tournament and going all out.
“I think the Philippines have to go in with one target: to go through, to go further. That’s not easy but if you can do that, that’s good…” Mr. Eriksson was quoted as saying by the AFC Website, underscoring the kind of mindset his team has to have if they are to make things happen.
“We have to have that target if we go to the tournament. We can’t just go and be happy that we are there. Yes, we’re happy but that’s not enough. We have to try to go through,” added the coach, who led the Azkals to a semifinal finish in the AFF Suzuki Cup late last year.
After South Korea, which incidentally was the runner-up in the last edition of the Asian Cup in 2015 behind champion Australia, the Azkals will face off with China on Jan. 11 and Kyrgyzstan on Jan. 16.
Apart from winding up in the top two in their respective groupings, a team can advance to the next round of the tournament if it is one of the four best third-placed teams among the six groups in the group stage.
The 2019 AFC Asian Cup has the theme “Bringing Asia Together.”
The Azkals’ matches can be seen over FOX Sports which is available on SkyCable Channels 31 & 32 (SD) and 253 & 254 (HD) and on Cignal Channels 263 and 265 (HD).
https://www.bworldonline.com/phl-azkals-begin-historic-afc-asian-cup-bid-today/

06 January 2019

Azkals viewing parties - Updated list



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Plato Bar - Manila

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Others :

CDO Marmar Basha, Corales Ave, across Xavier Univ Gym -Dennis Ardiente

Quezon City : Malingap Food Central , Diliman

Hat Trick Sports Bar , Bacolod City

Kublai's , Magallanes, Makati, Manila (Ultras Filipinas)

Cheers bar , Sydney , Australia

http://cheersbar.com.au/live-sport/?fbclid=IwAR3CqBa0oi7dIFqvJo7z9IMc2rQcYBqbJJQ4NMmUAxxTalwjbFkHfeQK9OQ


05 January 2019

Philippines' Woodland aiming high in return to UAE

Dubai: The Philippines may be in unchartered territory ahead of their first-ever AFC Asian Cup Finals match on Monday, but, for one of their players, UAE 2019 is something of a triumphant homecoming.
Azkals midfielder Luke Woodland (pictured above, centre) was born in Abu Dhabi, just over an hour away from Dubai's Al Maktoum Stadium, where the Southeast Asians will begin their Group C campaign against the highly-rated Korea Republic.


Woodland's family relocated to England when he was two years old, but he revealed his delight at returning to the country of his birth for the Philippines' historic first step on the Continental stage.

"My dad worked in Dubai for five years, then was in Abu Dhabi for two more years," he explained.


"So for me, when I knew the Asian Cup was being held here, I thought it’s my first Asian Cup, great venue, great city to be in, big Filipino community as well, so good for the team, and for me, I love it out here."

Upwards of 600,000 Filipinos live and work in the United Arab Emirates, with over 400,000 based in Dubai alone, and Woodland hopes these numbers will translate into a surge of support for an Azkals side facing the 2015 AFC Asian Cup runners-up.


"(There's a) big community here," said the Woodland. "We’ve played in Qatar before, we’ve played in Bahrain before, and a big Filipino community there came and supported us, so for sure we’re going to have people behind us as well.


"So for us to come out here it kind of helps the Philippines as a country, with us coming to the tournament helps us push up the sport a little bit, it’s good for the country and good for us."

After Monday's opener, the Philippines will meet China PR and fellow debutants Kyrgyz Republic as they look to extend their stay in UAE beyond the group stage.


Having qualified for the AFC Asian Cup Finals for the first time, and fresh from reaching the semi-finals in the 2018 AFF Championship, the Southeast Asians are riding high, and - while under no illusions as to the seriousness of the challenge at hand - Woodland remains calm and confident of a strong showing.

"The feeling in the team is good, the (AFF Championship) squad is basically the same team. One or two players come in, come out, (but it's the) same team we’ve brought here, so everyone knows each other for a long time," he revealed.


"We’ve got a very tough game in our first game against Korea Republic. First and foremost, it’s a very good experience for us boys, and a good chance to get our names out there as well.


"Realistically, I think we can push for third spot (in the group). We’ve played China before, we know how they are, how they play. We’ve played Kyrgyz Republic before. Korea Republic; we’ve got to respect them as a big team going into the tournament and let’s just see what we can do against them.
 While no Philippines player has previously appeared in a major international tournament, they are under tutelage of one of the competition's most experienced head coaches in Sven-Göran Eriksson.


The 70-year-old former England boss has enjoyed a glittering coaching career which has included trips to three FIFA World Cups, and having such experience in the Azkals' corner is invaluable according to Woodland.


"For me, Sven - growing up in the UK as well - he was in my prime England days with (Steven) Gerrard, (Frank) Lampard, all those boys, so having a coach like Sven, he’s got the wisdom, he’s been through so many squads, you can’t question what he’s doing," he said.


"For the boys there’s no better coach for us at the moment, and Scott (Cooper), Chris (Greatwich), all the other boys behind Sven. It’s perfect for us going into this tournament with the history and knowledge Sven’s got, and Scott backing him up.


"It’s good for us. A lot of teams know the Philippines coming into this tournament.


"Who’s the gaffer? Sven. Alright let’s have a good go."

http://www.the-afc.com/asiancup/news/philippines-woodland-aiming-high-in-return-to-uae