27 May 2020

PFF prexy Nonong Araneta hopeful on football's return in PH

By Xy-Zha Cabanlong

MANILA, Philippines -- With the entire Metro Manila looming to be placed under General Community Quarantine starting June 1, Philippine Football Federation president Nonong Araneta is hopeful that the Inter-Agency Task Force will consider allowing football games to be played.

In an interview in the Eat, Sleep, Breathe Football Podcast on Wednesday night, Araneta answered questions mostly about the fate of the sport in the country and how is football coping up in the region.

"I have been talking to fellow ASEAN federations, and the other member federations in Asia. We have been exchanging notes with regards to the protocols that we have to set in order for the games to commence or resume," said Araneta as part of his opening statement in the podcast.

He also mentioned that he has been observing other countries outside the region who had either resumed their league or allowed their teams to practice like Germany and Spain.

"I don’t see any reason why we cannot also open our league since countries that have been badly hit by the pandemic like Spain and Germany have opened their leagues," Araneta assessed.

Araneta mentioned that the PFF has already drafted a protocol that they will be presenting to the Games and Amusements Board (GAB) on Thursday, to which upon the approval of GAB, will be presented to the IATF for their final say.

The PFF is hopeful that the Philippines would follow the footsteps of neighbour Vietnam in allowing football matches to be played. However, there will be some changes in the playing venue of the Philippines Football League once it has the nod from the government to commence.

With the Rizal Memorial Stadium standing close to two COVID-19 treatment facilities, the PFF says that it has been ruled out as the venue for the games in the meantime so as not to compensate the safety of the players, staff and officials.

Unfortunately, it is also the same with the Binan Football Stadium which is adjacent to a COVID-19 treatment facility.

"[The PFF National Training Centre in] Carmona is the venue that we are looking at as soon as we have the green light to start the league," Araneta said.

He added that the said stadium is the best option for the PFF to hold not just the games in the PFL but possibly for the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers and the AFF Suzuki Cup as well.

"The only problem with the Carmona stadium is that it is not acceptable for FIFA A matches, but because there will be no fans, they might consider it," Araneta continued.

However, he did not rule out a possibility to hold the Azkals' upcoming matches on the road instead.

Araneta also added that while the PFF is keen on the opening of the fourth season of the PFL, it will not be the same thing for the Copa Paulino Alcantara.

"We will push through with the PFL if they allow us, but we cannot continue with the Copa Paulino Alcantara," Araneta said, citing that time is the main factor of the cancellation of the supposed third season of the cup.

If the protocols that the PFF will present to the GAB are approved, teams may be allowed to practice beginning June 15, in the condition that they will practice utmost safety in their training.

"If there are no cases of COVID-19 [on the players or staff or team officials] within three weeks of practice sessions, then it is safe to open the league. If the decision of the GAB and IATF is favourable to us, PFL will open on July 15," Araneta mentioned.

When asked about his vision of Philippine Football after the pandemic, Araneta says that it is a challenging time for sports, not just in the country, but for the rest of the world but so long as there are stakeholders willing to help in order for the games to push through despite the absence of live audience, he thinks that sports and football in particular will survive.

"Once there is a vaccine for COVID-19, then we can go back to normal. But as long as there's no vaccine, it's very difficult to go back to normal," Araneta said

Before the end of the interview, Araneta also assured the fans that the league sponsor, Qatar Airways, is still keen on helping the PFL.

"It's a big thing that we do have a sponsor that is also sponsoring the FIFA World Cup. It's like an big boost for country that we do have Qatar Airways backing our league. They told me that they are still willing to sponsor us and that they are just waiting for our advise on when will the PFL commence," Araneta explained.

In parting, the PFF president assured the football loving Filipinos that they are trying their very best to bring the games back in the country.

"Rest assured that we are doing our best to put football in the map again and make our players play again," Araneta concluded.

17 May 2020

PFL 2020 start beyond July

MANILA (18 May 2020) – With the COVID-19 pandemic still not easing up in the Philippines, the PFL (Philippines Football League) 2020 may start after July.
The Philippines Football Federation (PFF) had earlier set end May 2020 as the kick-off date for the PFL this year.
But since the Philippines still punching in high numbers of daily infections over the last several months, the top-flight league will now be postponed to a later date.
As of 15 May 2020, the Philippines have recorded 11,876 total cases with mortality at 790.
The number of recovered patients stands at 2,337.

14 May 2020

Scott Cooper wants Azkals to aim higher once football returns

When the coronavirus pandemic escalated in March the Philippines national team was just starting to hit its stride.
Qualification for the next Asian Cup -- along with the 2022 FIFA World Cup -- had begun and the Philippines were tied for second with China in their group at seven points.
Previously regarded as the minnows of Southeast Asia, the Azkals have improved dramatically over the past decade and played in the AFC Asian Cup for the first time in January.
Azkals coach Scott Cooper said the stoppage has definitely halted the team's momentum after qualifying wins against Guam and Maldives, a scoreless draw against China, and a tough 1-0 loss to group leaders Syria.
"We have three games that were meant to be completed by June that were at home to Guam and Maldives, both of whom we've already beaten, and away to China -- so that match was going to be pivotal," Cooper told ESPN in an exclusive interview. "... momentum was building and it's taken a long period of time but the team now have the philosophy and culture that I want."
2020 was initially shaping up to be a huge year for the Philippines, with the AFF Suzuki Cup still scheduled to start in November. Reaching the semifinals remains their best achievement at the regional competition and Cooper believes that nothing less than reaching the final will suffice.
"Obviously, we've been to the Asian Cup and we have to tip our hat to [former coach Thomas] Dooley for getting the team there, and then it was overall a poor showing. To go one better there would be to get through the group like Thailand and Vietnam did [in 2019].
"Then, of course, we want to get to the next phase of World Cup qualifying and we're going to give it our best shot."
For Azkals full-back Daisuke Sato, the next step for the Philippines is to simply win a competition. Since the rise of Philippine football in 2010 the Azkals have never won a major trophy -- the closest the Filipinos came to lifting silverware was a 1-0 loss to Palestine at the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup Final.
"We need to win some tournaments. I want to win some tournaments like the Suzuki Cup," Sato told Neil Etheridge during an Instagram Live interview. "This will change everything in the country. Like more help from the government, more attention to the national team."
Etheridge -- who plays for EFL Championship club Cardiff City -- agreed with the Suzuki Cup as a realistic short-term target for the Philippines.
"The next step is to reach the Final, but the next step is to win it and create real movement within South East Asia. And then obviously, hopefully, get into another Asian Cup and get outside that group," Etheridge said.
For all their recent achievements, the Azkals were previously hampered by conflict within the camp. Dooley had a number of fights with key players and even released star playmaker Stephan Schrock from the team.
Nonetheless, established veterans like Schrock and Martin Steuble have now praised the rejuvenated mood under Cooper.
"Fortunately, I was already here for a couple of years, initially as an assistant coach, and observed the environment and culture," said Cooper. "... We're onto a good thing because the attitude and culture right now is as strong as I've ever seen and [team manager] Dan Palami tells me is the strongest he's ever seen too.
Regional rivals, however, have criticized the Philippines and say they owe their rise to the use of foreign-born players. In the Azkals' defence, their stalwarts all have Filipino heritage, as compared to teams like Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, who have looked to naturalized players through the years.
For Cooper, who coached at the club level in Thailand and Indonesia, identifying overseas players who are eligible will always be part of their talent pool. He also said it is equally important to produce talent at home.
"It's critical to be looking at both ends," added Cooper, who also doubles up as the Philippine Football Federation's technical director.
Cooper -- along with senior Azkals team management -- leads the national team's development program, which aims to nurture young promising players with Filipino heritage. He cited players like Amani Aguinaldo, Patrick Deyto and Jovin Bedic as examples of homegrown talent from a population pool of more than 100 million people.
"There are [also] over a hundred players overseas with Filipino lineage who qualify, but we need to narrow that down to those who actually have the attitude and a burning desire to represent the Philippines.
ESPN Philippines reporter Paolo del Rosario contributed to this report.

08 May 2020

Schrock aches to make history with Philippine XI, Ceres

By Olmin Leyba

MANILA, Philippines — Two-time PSA Mr. Football awardee Stephan Schrock is targeting lofty goals for both the Philippine Azkals and his club Ceres Negros FC once action resumes post-lockdown.

Schrock said he’s looking forward to chase history with the Azkals in the Fifa World Cup-AFC Asian Cup Joint Qualifiers while helping the Busmen reassert their domestic dominance and maintain international excellence.
The Fil-German ace expressed confidence the Philippine side will rise to the occasion in their still-to-be-rescheduled matches against Guam, China and Maldives and reach the third round of the WC qualifiers for the first time.
“That is always something what I have in mind, creating history,” the Azkals skipper said in the CPT Crossover podcast recently.
The Pinoy booters sit at third in Group A with seven points behind unbeaten Syria (15 points) and China (seven but with superior goal difference against Phl, 11 versus 0) before play was halted.
The Azkals will host Guam and Maldives, two sides they defeated in the first leg of the home-and-away competition, and play on the road against China, which they battled to a 0-0 draw previously in Bacolod.
The target is to either top the group or place among the four best group runners-up to advance.
“The chance is absolutely there,” said Schrock. 
“I’m not overlooking Guam and Maldives but I would say the home games we have to win anyways and then we have to put in a very, very good performance against China and I think this is within reach for us – surprise everyone and go to the next round.”
As for Ceres, Schrock said their eyes are set on winning a four-peat in the still-to-open Philippines Football League. Likewise the Busmen are looking to surpass their achievement in the AFC Cup, where they won the Asean zone title in 2017 and reached the Inter-zone playoff semis stage.
“We’ll go for fourth in a row (in the PFL) and why not go for the (Asean) zonal championship or even better (in the AFC Cup),” he said. ‘This team is very, very capable of playing in the big stage.”
Ceres leads Group G of the AFC Cup with seven markers on two wins and a draw.