Football: Azkals eye calling up development team for Suzuki Cup 2021
By Manolo Pedralvez
It is possible that several, if not all, members of the Azkals Development Team could be called for active duty when the country sees action in the rescheduled ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup in April.
Philippine Football Federation president Mariano Araneta Jr. said the ADT side could be fielded in Southeast Asia’s men’s football championship, “because the Suzuki Cup falls on non-FIFA playing dates. Our professional players might not be available because the clubs won’t release them.
“So this is the team we will prepare for April.”
The AFF Suzuki Cup was earlier set for November 23 to December 31, 2020, but was postponed by the regional football body to April 11 to May 8, 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, retaining the biennial event’s home-and-away format for the second edition in a row.
The AFF has not yet announced when the draw for the group stages will be done.
On the other hand, national team manager Dan Palami said that the Philippines lineup could be composed of “Azkal players by clubs and ADT players who are ready, plus local-based players from other clubs who are performing well.”
National team liaison officer Ace Bright, who now serves as the general manager of United City FC, said some of the Azkals playing in the Thai League 1 could be available for the Suzuki Cup “since the competition will end in March.”
Among the players in Thailand are goalkeepers Michael Falkesgaard, Patrick Deyto, defenders Daisuke Sato, Luke Woodland, Martin Steuble and Alvaro Silva, midfielders Iain Ramsay and striker Patrick Reichelt.
Araneta said he was anxious of the national squad’s Suzuki Cup build-up since the national government’s Inter-Agency Task Force in charge of the virus crisis has yet to say when it will approve the training of national teams.
“So we are still awaiting the go-signal from the IATF when we will be able to get our national team back in training,” the PFF chief said.
Palami shared Araneta’s sentiments, saying: “It all depends on the IATF approval when our national team can begin training.”
He added that just as in the past, “we will also consider training abroad but it will all depend on which country is accessible for travel.”
With Cooper calling the shots, the ADT acquitted itself well in the compact Philippines Football League 2020, dropping its first two matches before racking up three straight wins to place third overall in the six-team round robin series.
The ADT absorbed close 0-1 decisions to eventual PFL champion United City and runner-up Kaya-Iloilo FC, respectively, before shutting out clubs Mendiola (2-0), Maharlika Manila (5-0) and Stallion-Laguna (2-0) in succession.
After the competition, Cooper, who will also call the shots for the Azkals, said that from his standpoint among those who were ready to step up to the next level are converted defender Mar Diano, midfielder Lance Ocampo and versatile co-skipper Jarvey Gayoso.
Anthony Pinthus, who was on loan to UCFC and was adjudged the PFL’s top keeper, will also be back in harness for the ADT squad, added Bright.
Since the country’s breakthrough semifinal appearance in the 2010 Suzuki Cup, Filipino footballers have reached the semis of Southeast Asia’s premier men’s tournament four times.
The only time the Azkals failed to make it to the Final 4 was when the country hosted the tournament in 2016 at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan, dropping out of contention in the four-team tournament with one loss and two draws.
With the new home-and-away format introduced in the 2018 edition, the Filipinos were back in the semis again, losing twice to eventual Suzuki Cup champion Vietnam by the same scores of 1-2 and 2-4 on aggregate.