Philippine Azkals dead serious on Suzuki Cup glory
MANILA, Philippines – It all started in 2010.
The Philippine Azkals rose to fame after stunning defending champion Vietnam for a historic ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup semifinal berth in front of the roaring home crowd in My Dinh National Stadium.
After 8 years of ups and downs in Philippine football, team manager Dan Palami thinks it's about time for the Azkals to hoist the elusive Suzuki Cup trophy.
“For me, this (Suzuki Cup) is where it all started for the Azkals,” said Palami during the Philippine Sportswriters Association forum on Tuesday, October 30.
“That’s why the importance of winning the Suzuki Cup is maybe not paramount, but it’s as important [as the Asian Cup] because it’s about time we show ourselves as a champion of Southeast Asia.”
The Philippine men’s football team has been stepping up its preparations for its upcoming major competitions after a historic qualification to the Asian Cup last March.
The Azkals came from behind to seal a 2-1 win over Tajikistan in front of the home crowd.
Last June, the team management did not renew head coach Thomas Dooley's contract despite leading the Philippines to an Asian Cup berth. Instead, the Azkals hired former England captain Terry Butcher as the new head coach along with Scott Cooper as the senior football adviser.
However, Butcher resigned his post just 50 days after agreeing to coach the national team. This paved the way for Cooper to fill in as the interim head coach and lead the team in two training camps abroad prior to the 2018 Suzuki Cup.
Possible game changer?
Now that the Azkals are down to the last stretch of their Suzuki Cup preparations, the team made another surprise announcement as former England national team coach Sven Göran Eriksson came into the picture last Saturday, October 27.
During the Suzuki Cup trophy tour, Palami confirmed that the Philippines has sealed a 6-month deal with the world-renowned Swedish coach who led England to two FIFA World Cups and improved the country's FIFA ranking from 17th place in 2001 to 4th after the 2006 Germany World Cup.
Before managing the England national team, Eriksson already had a decorated career as he copped 18 trophies with various clubs in Sweden, Portugal and Italy.
"The advantages of getting somebody like Sven is because everybody realizes that we are serious in developing the national team of the Philippines. It has made headlines in the sporting world internationally," added Palami.
"I think there was one writer who said that looking at it from its proper perspective 10 years ago. If somebody said that, the chances of man landing on Mars was higher than the Philippine national team being coached by somebody like Sven."
To understand the magnitude of bringing Sven Gorän Eriksson, you need to go back to at least 10 years ago when it was a different footballing landscape in the Philippines. Perhaps the first man to land in Mars was more possible than the @PHI_Azkals qualifying for the Asian Cup.— Sivan John (@SivanJohn_) October 27, 2018
Palami also revealed that it wasn't easy acquiring the services of a football manager like Eriksson. The former England coach was also being offered by the Cameroon and Iraq national teams, but Palami remained adamant in enticing him with the potentially good future of Philippine football.
"They were offering him a lot more than what I was negotiating with," said Palami on his competition with the other teams.
"I think he was enticed by my audacity to actually have the guts to get somebody like him. But I'm glad that I was able to sell him our dream for Philippine football, and the chance to leave a legacy behind."
Sven's magic has begun
According to Palami, the whole Azkals team was ecstatic on the appointment of Eriksson especially the team's Filipino-British veterans – Phil and James Younghusband and Neil Etheridge – who grew up seeing Eriksson manage English football stars like David Beckham and Wayne Rooney.
"At first, they could not believe that it was him observing our camp in Qatar. I think theres’been a positive vibe in the team, not only because of his entry, but even before, when the system of Scott Cooper was introduced," shared Palami.
"It has been magnified by the entry of Sven and I think the guys are excited to be under the tutelage of somebody who has coached players like Beckham, Rooney, champion teams as well."
Aside from the newfound optimism, the news of Eriksson coaching the Azkals has also sparked the interest of Fil-foreign players to try out and represent the country under the decorated coach's leadership.
"Indeed, now, with his entry, I've had messages from more players who are interested [in joining the Azkals]. I didn't realize there were other Filipino players playing in higher divisions in Spain and South America," added Palami.
"So, we'll look into their documents and make a decision."
Eriksson will be arriving in time for the national team pool's last training camp in Manila before they depart for Bacolod for the first Suzuki Cup game against Singapore on Tuesday, November 13.
As the Azkals gear up in full force, the squad hopes to deliver its golden Suzuki Cup promise. – Rappler.com
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