Hopes still high for Azkals
BANGKOK—There’s little to worry about even with the Philippines missing its top two goalkeepers in the AFF Suzuki Cup here. And with overseas-based players all accounted for in the Thai capital, hopes are high that the Azkals can pull off a surprise on opening-day against Thailand at Rajamangala National Stadium here.
On the day coach Michael Weiss reiterated his full backing for third-choice keeper Ed Sacapano, Filipino-Danish leftback Dennis Cagara arrived from Frankfurt to complete the roster for the group stage, where the Azkals will face Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar.
Weiss marveled at the quality at his disposal, even as he faces a selection dilemma a day before he was slated to submit his final 22-man list in Group A.
Misagh Bahadoran has already been ruled out because of a thigh injury, but the likes of Carli de Murga, the returning Angel Guirado, Patrick Reichelt, Marwin Angeles, Chris Greatwich, Ian Araneta, Demitrius Omphroy and Jason Sabio are all in contention to make the 18-man list for the Thailand match.
The midfield pair of Holland-based Paul Mulders and Filipino-Danish Jerry Lucena also trained with the squad for the first time in the facility just outside the national stadium.
The selection dilemma speaks volumes of how the team has evolved into a formidable unit, considering that two years ago, in the same tournament, former coach Simon McMenemy struggled to find options off the bench.
“We have good options,” said Weiss, whose side faces Vietnam on Nov. 27 and Myanmar on Nov. 30.
“We’re looking forward to fielding a very strong team,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami. “Everything is geared toward winning the championship.”
In terms of Fifa rankings, the Azkals are second to Vietnam here, but the three other teams in the group possess more football pedigree, particularly Thailand, which has won the tournament three times.
“We have done our homework as far as team preparation and scouting is concerned,” said Weiss, whose side trained in the United States and played high-level matches in the Middle East in the leadup to the tournament.
Sacapano, who proved superb in the 1-0 win over Singapore last week in Cebu, has been thrust into the limelight following the absence of Neil Etheridge and Roland Muller. The Azkals have brought in Swiss goalkeeping coach Pascal Zuberbuhler to help out Sacapano.
“This man has been very quiet and very hard in training even if he wasn’t getting his chances,” Weiss said. “Sacapano played super, fantastic performance against Singapore and in the past couple of months and I will be the happiest man if he can continue that.”