The AFC Challenge Cup in the Maldives may be a year away, but the Philippine Football Federation is already mapping out a plan to make sure the country will have the best chance of nailing that lone slot to the Asian Cup at stake in the tournament.
Azkals manager Dan Palami plans to have the team play as many matches together to improve cohesion, the lack of which was exposed during the Group E Qualifiers against Cambodia and Turkmenistan.
PFF president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta, for his part, will work on the appeal to have next year’s tournament moved to international Fifa dates so that the Azkals will have all their Europe-based standouts.
The likes of Stephan Schrock, Javier Patiño, Dennis Cagara, Jerry Lucena, Neil Etheridge, Roland Muller and Paul Mulders were able to see action in the qualifiers since it was scheduled in international dates when clubs are inclined to release players for national team duty.
“It will be a very busy next few months for us,” said Palami. “The challenge now is to keep this team and make sure they play in as many matches as possible. The quality got us through but it will be how the team plays that will see us through.”
Palami said a friendly away at Hong Kong is already lined up on June 4. The Azkals then return to Cebu for a friendly possible against Vietnam on June 8, before another friendly on Independence Day against “a strong team” in Asia at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
Araneta vowed to move “heaven and earth” for the Maldives tournament to be played on international dates.