MANILA, Philippines — There’s no shortage in experience and quality in the latest group of Azkals tasked to qualify for the AFC Challenge Cup final tournament next year.
Stephan Schrock, who is enjoying a good run of matches with Hoffenheim in Germany, and Fil-Spanish striker Javier Patino, who played against a Lionel Messi-led Barcelona team late last year while he was at Cordoba, headline the strong 23-man side unveiled by national coach Michael Weiss on Monday.
Except for Ray Jonsson, the entire Europe-based brigade is expected in Manila with Paul Mulders and Juani and Angel Guirado arriving early to train with the side that opens its campaign against Brunei at the Rizal Memorial Stadium on Friday.
Dennis Cagara, Jerry Lucena, Neil Etheridge, Roland Muller and Rob Gier are expected to arrive today.
The local-based players in the lineup include skipper Chieffy Caligdong, Suzuki Cup veteran Ed Sacapano, Carli de Murga, Jason de Jong, Misagh Bahadoran, Patrick Reichelt, Marwin Angeles, Matthew Uy, Chris Greatwich, OJ Porteria and Phil and James Younghusband.
“It’s a very good selection, we have all the professional players available,” said Weiss who probably has the most talented side at his disposal in years.
“We can expect a passionate team that will go for the win under all circumstances, with good power and motivation.”
Acquired by Thai powerhouse Buriram United recently, Patino will be making his debut in the tournament. But Weiss said it will be best to temper expectations with the former Spanish second division player.
“Patiño is definitely a top player in the Southeast Asian level, even in the Asian level, but it is a team sport and it takes time to connect with the other players,” said Weiss. “We should give him time. We know that we can expect something but perhaps not the best yet.”
The Azkals face Cambodia on Sunday and Turkmenistan on March 26. Only the top team in the group will clinch a spot in the tournament in Maldives next year where the champion will gain outright entry to the 2015 AFC Asian Cup.