‘Favorable’ SEA Games draw for U23 Philippine Azkals
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines landed in a “favorable” group in the Southeast Asian Games football competition next month with the Under-23 Azkals ending up in the company of 2009 losing finalist Vietnam and semifinalist Laos.
Myanmar and lightweights Timor Leste and Brunei are also in Group B together with the Philippines, which is seeking a first men’s football medal in the biennial meet in Indonesia.
Defending champion Malaysia found itself in the tournament’s “Group of Death” with Thailand—which won seven straight titles until 2009, Singapore, Cambodia and host Indonesia.
“We’re lucky we have this favorable draw,” said Philippine Football Federation president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta. “There’s a good chance we can compete in this group. We hope to be in the semifinals.”
Though the final lineup has yet to be revealed, senior team members Jason de Jong, Manny Ott, Mark Hartmann and Matthew Hartmann are already in the short list of the Under-23 side that will also be coached by German Michael Weiss.
Other Europe-based standouts like goalkeeper Roland Muller and Patrick Hinrichsen from Germany, Jeff Christiaens from Belgium and Carli de Murga from Spain will also beef up the squad, together with local-based players Neckson Leonora, Raymark Fernandez and Lemuel Unabia.
The Under-23 side will undergo a week-long camp in Japan late this month as part of its preparation for the SEA Games.
Meanwhile, the Philippines reaped the dividends of playing more matches in October, moving up eight places to 158 in the latest rankings released by the International Football Federation (Fifa).
Boosted by victories over Macau in the Long Teng Cup in Kaohsiung, Taiwan and higher-ranked Nepal in a friendly at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, the Philippines collected 127 points in a strong finish to the year where it qualified for the AFC Challenge Cup main tournament.
“We expected to move up, but we should strive to be higher in the rankings,” said Araneta, noting that Bangladesh, a team the Azkals handily defeated, 3-0, is even ranked better than the team at 141.
The Azkals got the bulk of their points for their 4-nil hammering of Nepal, which was ranked 136 last month.
Araneta said the Azkals are better than their rankings indicate. The Fifa rankings take into consideration not only the result of the past month, but the overall performance of the national team since 2008.
“We deserve to be higher. But we are taking it one step at a time,” Araneta added.
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