MALE, Maldives—Two wins away from reaching their Asian Cup dream, the Philippine Azkals feel they have achieved a “balance” in the lineup with both Manila-based players and Europe-born stars combining brilliantly in their bid for success.
But that won’t stop Azkals manager Dan Palami from further beefing up the side, especially if the team goes all the way to the Asian Cup in Australia in January.
The Azkals were slated to face host Maldives last night in the semifinals of the AFC Challenge Cup here with a victory putting them one step closer to the title and a spot in the Asian Cup.
“A lot of the plans this year will depend on how we fare here,” said Palami. “But we will have to expand even further our scouting activities just to check if there are still (overseas-born) Filipinos interested in the team.
“There were several players who expressed interest in this tournament that did not make it in time.”
The Azkals manager, who has been bankrolling the side since 2010, expressed satisfaction over what he felt was a “balance” in the quality of play being displayed by the squad, whose players come from different parts of the world.
“I think we have found that balance,” said Palami, stressing that seven Philippines-based players started in the 2-0 win over Turkmenistan in their last Group B game Saturday night.
Two of the players who started in the match are 19-year-olds Amani Aguinaldo, a central defender, and Daisuke Sato, a leftback, who both play for Global in the United Football League.
Coach Thomas Dooley heaped praises on the defensive duo who are playing in their first international tournament for the national team.
“It wasn’t a surprise for me how good they were,” said Dooley. “Amani is, maybe, one of the best centerbacks we have. For me, it was important to have somebody to be kind of killer at the back and he’s fast and strong.”
Dooley said Sato, who was part of the Urawa Reds Youth team in Japan, is an “incredible player for his age.”
“He plays like an experienced player and shows how much knowledge he has about the game, Dooley said, referring to Sato, who has started ahead of the veteran Dennis Cagara.
Improving the squad will always be a priority for Palami, who is already looking at camps abroad regardless of the result here.
“The Asian Cup is a different thing altogether,” said Palami. “But everything we do will always be geared towards having a successful team.”