VIENTIANE, LAOS—National players Chieffy Caligdong and Ian Araneta, who have represented the Philippine football team the past 10 years, yesterday said they’re part of the strongest squad the country has ever assembled for an international tournament.
That statement will be put to the test starting today when the RP booters battle minnows Timor Leste in the Suzuki Cup Asean Football Championship at the National Stadium here.
Kickoff is at 4 p.m. (5 p.m. in Manila) with the RP booters, now ranked at their highest position of No. 152 in the latest Fifa rankings, looking to continue their mastery over the Timorese, whom they crushed, 7-1, in the same tournament four years ago in Bacolod City.
“We’re ready,” Caligdong, the co-captain of the team together with Aly Borromeo, said yesterday. “In my years with the national team, there’s never been a team that’s more prepared than this one.”
With a squad powered by overseas-based players and aces from the Philippine Air Force, the Filipinos are actually one of the favorites to qualify to the main tournament set in Vietnam and Indonesia, along with host Laos, which has advanced in the past two tournaments.
Laos and Cambodia clash in the second game of the four-nation qualifying tournament at 6:30 p.m. at the well-kept venue that served as main hub of the Southeast Asian Games last year.
“It’s important for us to win the first game and build confidence,” said team manager Dan Palami.
The RP team, now coached by Englishman Simon McMenemy, who replaced compatriot Des Bulpin last month, is coming off a third-place finish in the Long Teng Cup in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, last week.
Striker Phil Younghusband, a former Chelsea reserve, who struck four goals in that rout of Timor in 2006, is not expected to start because of an ankle injury.
Veteran Yanti Bersales may start in Younghusband’s place, pairing up with Ian Araneta, who scored four goals in the Long Teng Cup.
Also expected to start is newcomer Rey Jonnson, a veteran of the Iceland league, Fil-Dutch Jason de Jong, Phil’s older brother, James, Fil-British players Rob Gier and Neil Etheridge, Anton del Rosario, co-skipper Aly Borromeo and Caligdong.