MANILA, Philippines – A series of friendly matches against powerhouse sides in the Southeast Asian region in June will be the next assignment for the Philippine Azkals, who are coming off a third place finish in the AFC Challenge Cup in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Azkals coach Michael Weiss said there are plans for four friendly matches from June 2-12, preferably against Southeast Asian top teams Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.
“That will be important because these are massive matches against the strongest contenders for the Suzuki Cup,” said Weiss, who will now focus his attention on the Asean tournament where the Azkals reached the semifinals two years ago in Vietnam.
“This is the level we have to play and then the group becomes stronger,” Weiss said. “It’s important that we have our best available players for the matches to really see where we stand.”
Weiss is tempering expectations in the future as he tries to put the success of the national side on a “stable platform.”
The Azkals won three matches—against Tajikistan, India and Palestine—and lost two to finalists North Korea and Turkmenistan in the Challenge Cup as the country posted its best finish, but Weiss said sustaining the success is easier said than done.
The Azkals pulled off the third-place finish even without some of their best players in Stephan Schrock, Jerry Lucena and Dennis Cagara, who are tied up with their respective European clubs during the tournament. But the three players are inclined to join the side in June as it is part of the Fifa calendar.
“This is a miracle story going on but you will only realize this 10 to 15 years from now,” said Weiss of the Azkals’ impressive run in Nepal.
“There’s no problem now because everything is on the rise. But the hardships will come. To put this in a stable platform is the challenge for all the people involved and people who make decisions.”
The Azkals will take a one-month break as players return to their respective clubs in the United Football League.