‘Early preparation will be key for Azkals’
DUBAI—For a team known to defy odds, the Philippine Azkals look like they would need a miracle to survive their group in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup next year here.
But team manager Dan Palami thinks the squad will need something more tangible.
“We [need to] start preparing immediately, talk to sponsors, the Filipino community here,” said Palami. “We will leave no stone unturned in preparing for this tournament.”
The way the draw turned out for the Azkals, anything less than ideal preparations would be disastrous.
“There are no easy draws for a debutant team like the Azkals,” said Palami. “We just have to prepare well. Korea and China would want to be in champions, but we can give them a surprise.”
South Korea—a team bound for the World Cup for the ninth straight time in Russia this year—and China, a powerhouse squad that walloped the Azkals in a friendly last year, stand in the way of the Philippines’ hopes of reaching the knockout round of the quadrennial tournament.
Central Asian side Kyrgyzstan, which lost to the Azkals twice in friendly matches in 2016, was also drawn with the Philippines in Group C during the official draw ceremony at Armani Hotel inside the iconic Burj Khalifa here.
The top two teams from the six groups and the four best third placed will qualify for the knockout stage.
Azkals skipper Phil Younghusband, who was on stage as one of the draw assistants, is already looking forward to the challenge of creating a stir in the continent’s most prestigious football event.
“I wanted a World Cup team in there, we got Korea. In China and Kyrgyzstan, we got two teams that we’ve played against and we’re familiar with,” said Younghusband. “This is on another level. This is where we want to be as a football country and hopefully this is just the start.
“We’ve been trying to do this over the last 12 years. We’ve done it before. We’ll have to do the same this time at a higher level so we’ll have to do it against China and South Korea,” added Younghusband. “Anything can happen in football. It’s up to us to take on the challenge.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.