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Azkals leave for Japan training Monday

By Cedelf P. Tupas
Philippine Daily Inquirer



MANILA, Philippines ? The Philippine football team leaves for Japan on Monday (March 7) for the most important stretch of its preparation for the second leg of its AFC Challenge Cup qualifying duel with Mongolia in Ulan Bator, Mongolia.

The Azkals, who previously held a high-altitude camp in Baguio City, are set to train in a facility of the Japan Football Association just outside Tokyo in a bid to help them acclimatize to the wintry conditions in Ulan Bator.

Barely two weeks before the match, Azkals team manager Dan Palami said the team was 80 percent ready for the showdown with the Mongolians, whom the Azkals defeated, 2-0, in the first leg in Bacolod last February 9.

?I think we are 80 percent ready, the 20 percent of course will be the weather factor,? said Palami, who was honored as Executive of the Year by the Philippine Sportswriters Association for his remarkable work with the Azkals.

Palami believes that under normal conditions, the Azkals can easily beat Mongolia. He stressed that the training in Japan will be important in assessing the team?s chances of progressing to the group qualifying in Myanmar starting March 21.

?We want to check the reaction time and the decision making of the players and how far the weather will affect the team,? Palami said.

?After we train in Japan, it would be safe to think about Myanmar. It will be difficult to make prediction because I don?t know how the team will react on sub-zero conditions.? But Palami said the Azkals showed sharp form last week in training at the artificial pitch at the International School Manila

?When we were practicing at the ISM, our shooting and passing rate was as high as 85 percent,? he said. ?The pitch is perfect and it will be the same pitch as in Mongolia.?

The team will miss Rob Gier and Chris Greatwich as well as goalkeeper Neil Etheridge for the Mongolia duel.

Despite their absence, skipper Aly Borromeo believes the team has what it takes to beat Mongolia.

?The weather factor will be more important than their absence,? said Borromeo. ?There?s no reason we can?t win except for the weather factor.?

Meanwhile, Filipino-German rightback Stephan Schrock arrived in the country Saturday to process his passport.

A highly touted player of the German second division side Greuther Furth, the 24-year-old Schrock is still sidelined by a knee injury that will keep him out for the next five weeks.

Palami said Schrock, who was still in crutches on Sunday, would be ready in time for the World Cup qualifiers in June.

?I appreciate the interest. He said he is eager to play and I think that?s the reason why even in crutches he came over just to fix his passport,? Palami said.

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