Azkals head coach Scott Cooper would be staying longer with the team, allowing him to help make the push for the Philippines’ 2023 Asian Cup and 2026 FIFA World Cup appearance.
After two years with the team, Cooper and the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) agreed to extend his contract as head coach.
"When I first came here, I saw the massive potential of the Azkals," said Cooper, who earned a solid reputation in Thailand, where he’s led teams to stunning improvements.
"During this pandemic, we’ve been setting goals and putting plans in place to achieve those goals. I can honestly say that we can still get better and I am committed to lead this team as it continues to make its mark in Asian and world football."
Cooper first joined the Azkals coaching staff as a consultant in 2018. This came after former head coach Thomas Dooley’s contract was not renewed even after leading the Azkals to a maiden Asian Cup berth.
The Irish coach worked alongside former England manager Sven Goran-Eriksson in the Azkals’ 2019 Asian Cup stint then took over the head coach post on a full-time basis in time for the joint 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers.
PFF president Mariano "Nonong" Araneta expressed satisfaction over Cooper’s performance so far in the qualifiers where the Azkals are at third place in Group A behind Syria and China.
"I think the team has improved under him and we look forward to him taking the team to another level," said Araneta.
The Azkals are still in contention for the 2022 World Cup, but team manager Dan Palami feels that the 2026 edition that will be jointly hosted by Canada, Mexico and the United States is a more realistic goal for the team.
"We trust that coach Scott can take the team into where we want it to be," said Palami.
"It is just unfortunate that the COVID-19 pandemic stopped our momentum, but we have set what we feel our realistic goals for the team in the future."
The Azkals notched significant results the past year holding China to a goalless draw in Bacolod last October and bringing the result to a 0-1 loss against an offensive Syria side in their clash in Dubai late last year.
Aside from continuing to keep in touch with the current Azkals pool, he has been mentoring several young homegrown stars through the Azkals Development team in order for them to transition to the senior’s game.
Among the players in the team are Jarvey Gayoso, Mar Diano and Lance Ocampo, all of whom are being considered by Cooper for the senior team. – Rappler.com
More commonly known as “Bee”, Beatrice is a multimedia sports reporter for Rappler, who covers Phillippine sports governance, national teams, football and the UAAP. Stay tuned for her news and features on Philippine sports and videos like the Rappler Athlete’s Corner and Rappler Sports Timeout.