‘Suzuki Cup experience will make Azkals better’
The Philippines may have failed to achieve its target of reaching the AFF Suzuki Cup final this year, but coach Sven Goran Eriksson believes its campaign in the regional tournament should serve the Azkals well as they make their debut in the AFC Asian Cup starting Jan. 7 at United Arab Emirates.
“We will be better with the experience we have in the Suzuki Cup,” declared Eriksson after the Azkals suffered a fourth semifinal exit in five competitions in Hanoi last week. “We expect to improve our performance with better players and a longer preparation.”
The Swede, who has coached England and Ivory Coast in the World Cup, did not have some of his stars in the most important stretch of the Suzuki Cup due to either injuries or club commitments, but the likes of Daisuke Sato, Patrick Strauss, Luke Woodland, Stephan Palla and Neil Etheridge will all be available for the tournament in the UAE.
In contrast, Vietnam had a full-strength squad in the semifinals, using the Suzuki Cup to also build up its team for the Asian tournament.
Sidelined by an injury at the start of the Suzuki Cup, Javier Patino will also be back for the Azkals in the Asian Cup. Azkals manager Dan Palami hinted that the squad will still be reinforced by a few newcomers.
The Azkals plan to leave for Qatar for training camp shortly after Christmas with a clash against Suzuki Cup tormentor Vietnam on New Year’s Eve in Doha, Qatar. The Azkals make their Asian Cup debut against powerhouse South Korea on Jan. 7 in Dubai.
“If we work on ourselves and work together, we have a good chance at being successful in the Asian Cup,” said James Younghusband.
The Azkals face China on Jan. 11 in Abu Dhabi before battling Kyrgyzstan four days later in Dubai. The top two teams from the six groups along with four best third placers will qualify for the knockout stage of the tournament.
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