Stronger Azkals team to compete in Suzuki Cup

Icko de Guzman
The Philippine men's football team are in the "group of death" but they are determined to perform better than they did in 2010, when they made history and defeated the reigning champions

READY TO GO. The Azkals will attempt to do better in this year's Suzuki Cup, after a successful campaign in the tournament back in 2010. Photo by John Paul Manahan, Soccer Central Philippines.

MANILA, Philippines – In a sense, the Philippine men’s football team will come in as underdogs as they begin their AFF Suzuki Cup campaign starting November 24 in Bangkok, Thailand.

The Azkals are set to face three time champions Thailand, 2008 champions Vietnam, and qualifier winners Myanmar in what is perceived as the infamous “group of death” as all four teams are among the top in Southeast Asia following the latest update of the monthly FIFA rankings.

The hype for the tournament culminated in a send-off dinner and press conference held Wednesday night, November 8, at the Richmonde Hotel in Eastwood, Quezon City which was graced by the Azkals, head coach Michael Weiss, Philippine Football Federation (PFF) President Mariano Araneta Jr., and PFF Legal Counsel Atty. Edwin Gastanes.

Optimistic players

Despite the hype for the upcoming biennial tournament, the Azkals downplayed their chances as they still considered themselves as the underdogs heading to the competition.

“We consider ourselves to be the underdogs, but they should not underestimate us,” said captain Chieffy Caligdong in Filipino regarding the team’s chances in the Suzuki Cup.

Caligdong also noted that they will expect their fixture to be physical especially against Vietnam, who they defeated with a 2-0 scoreline two years ago resulting in a renewed interest in the sport brought on by the Azkals.

“Vietnam feels like a rivalry after we defeated them,” said the Azkals skipper.

The Philippines defeated Vietnam 2-0 in 2010 in a surprise upset.

Chris Greatwich, whose goals against Singapore and Vietnam propelled the rise of the Azkals, noted that what happened two years ago was just the beginning, and better things are yet to come for the national team following the successes that team have been enjoying.

Greatwich also added that the memory of 2010 is still fresh in his mind and expressed hope that they do even better this time around.

“It was the best time of my life and I hope we can go further in this tournament,” said the midfielder.

Stronger

Philippine head coach Michael Weiss gave praise to the Philippine Football Federation and Team Manager Dan Palami for their time and hard work in training, and sees the team as being competitive when the tournament kicks off.

“They know each other better now and have cohesion,” he said.

“We are now in a position where we are strong enough to look [at] our own strengths,” added the German regarding his thoughts on his squad.

Should the Azkals advance to the semifinals of the competition, they will face either the winners or runner-ups of Group B which is bannered by defending champion Malaysia, whom the Azkals have consistently tied with, Indonesia who they drew 1-1 last June, Singapore, who they defeated 2-0 last September and will face next week in Cebu, and lastly Laos, who defeated the Azkals 2-0 last September. – Rappler.com