MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Azkals are about to get a baptism of fire on Monday, January 7, as they face Asian powerhouse South Korea in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup in Dubai.
But in the world of sports, there will always be surprises in store.
"We’re very grateful and happy that we can represent the Philippines in this tournament of Asia," said midfielder Stephan Schrock.
"It would be a tough game for us, but we have been in football for very long and there are surprises everywhere, and we’re willing to give everyone a headache in this group for sure."
Despite facing an intimidating FIFA World Cup regular in South Korea, Philippine head coach Sven-Göran Eriksson and his crew are raring to prove that they deserve to compete against the best in Asia. (READ: Azkals look to 'get out' of 2019 Asian Cup group stage)
"Korea is a big team that’s for sure, but Philippines is a big team as well, it’s a big country. You will see tomorrow," said Eriksson, the famed coach who led England in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.
"We [worked a lot] on the plays and I’m sure of one thing, they are going out tomorrow, the players – the 11 starting and the eventual players coming on – they are going give Korea a fight."
Eriksson debuted as the Philippines' head coach in the 2018 Suzuki Cup and led the Azkals to their fourth semifinal appearance in the biennial tournament.
But the 70-year-old Swede is confident that he will not repeat the past months' mistakes – fielding a depleted lineup while still unfamiliar with the regional footballing scene – as the Azkals have a few tricks up their sleeve against South Korea.
"When we are the [underdogs] and we’re not afraid with trying to play the way that we could play and when the players do that, they become very, very good," said Eriksson.
There are no promises, but the Philippine Azkals sure aren't afraid to try and pull off the tournament's biggest upset right in their opening campaign. – 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.