Azkals land in Group B of AFC Challenge Cup draw

Myke Miravite
The Philippine National Men’s Football Team will be grouped in with Afghanistan, Laos, and Turkmenistan in Group B first of the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup.

DOG FIGHT. The Azkals will face off with tough competition in Group B of the AFC Challenge Cup. Photo from official Azkals website

MANILA, Philippines – If they are to improve from their third place finish in Nepal two years ago, the Philippine National Men’s Football Team will have to get past Afghanistan, Laos, and Turkmenistan in Group B first of the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup to be held on May 19-30 in the Maldives.

In a draw held Wednesday night, February 12, the Azkals will play recently-crowned South Asian Football Federation champions and 138th-ranked Afghanistan and Southeast Asian neighbor Laos on May 20 and 22 respectively in Addu City before wrapping up the Group Stages in the Maldives’ capital Male against Turkmenistan – whom the Philippines defeated 1-nil in the Challenge Cup qualifications here in Manila – on May 24.

The host nation, meanwhile, will be joined by 2012 Challenge Cup semifinalist Palestine, 144th-ranked Kyrgyzstan, and two-time Asian Games title winners Myanmar in Group A.

Newly-installed head coach Thomas Dooley will race against time in preparing the Azkals – bannered by a mix of local football stars and foreign-based players – as they will have less than four months together before his first tournament with the team. 

“The biggest, shortest goal we have is to win the Challenge Cup because this is an important task. I’m very excited to take this task, it may not be very easy but it will be worth it,” the American mentor told reporters at a press con earlier this month.

Despite copping bronze in the 2012 edition of the Challenge Cup in Nepal behind the eventual Golden Boot winner Phil Younghusband, there will be no easy day for the Azkals as they will need to place second in Group B to qualify to the crossover semifinals which will be held on May 27. 

Turkmenistan – ranked two notches higher than the Azkals at 125th – is the highest-positioned nation in the FIFA rankings and was the same team who booted out the Filipinos in the semifinals two years ago. Laos, on the other hand, won 2-1 against the Philippines in September 2012 but the game was scratched off as a non-FIFA ‘A’ friendly after controversy surrounded the officiating of the match.

Afghanistan will also be a tough squad coming into the tournament as they have gone unbeaten in their last six games, winning five of their matches since August 2013. 

The winner of the Challenge Cup will gain an automatic ticket to the AFC Asian Cup next year to be held in Australia. –

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