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Palami: Azkals will rebound

/ 05:20 AM February 14, 2019

Last month was not so great for the Azkals.

The national soccer team, after failing to reach the knockout round of the Asian Cup in Dubai in early January, slipped seven notches in the current world rankings released by Fifa, its international federation.

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From 116th in the Dec. 20, 2018 rankings, the local soccer heartthrobs are now 123rd out of 211 teams listed by the world football governing body.

Meantime, the finalists of the Asian Cup, the oldest continental soccer tournament in the world, got major boosts in the latest rankings as of Feb. 2.

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Heavy favorite Japan, loser to Qatar, 1-3, in the finals, moved up from 50th to 27th.

As the new Asian powerhouse, Qatar advanced from 93rd to 50th.

“We reached a high of 114 in the world in the November rankings,” recalled Azkals godfather Dan Palami.

Although he is not shouting it from the rooftops, Palami said when he took over as manager for the Azkals 10 or so years ago, “we were hovering at 186.”

Palami said the Azkals’ giant leap in the rankings could translate into financial success while courting the youth to take up a sport best suited for the Filipino’s built and temperament. However, that goal suffered a setback during their debut in the Asian Cup.

Palami also assured that “the program implemented by the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) under the leadership of president Mariano Araneta and implemented by the Azkals management should be yielding marked improvement starting in September this year when the World Cup 2022 qualifier starts.”

He did not elaborate.

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Asked how close is the PFF in forming a team with a nucleus of homegrown talent without relying too much on Fil-foreigners from Europe, Palami said:  “That challenge is for all football stakeholders in the Philippines to face.”

He said the PFF continues to “ensure that its grassroots program is implemented, but the (just formed) Philippine Premier League will be a critical catalyst in creating a paradigm shift in the players’ mix.”

“Right now…we are looking at 5-8 years for players based locally to develop and complete that nucleus if given the same training and exposure as Filipino players abroad.”

Like in the Asian Cup, the Azkals have always entered the competition as underdogs,” Palami said. “We lost against South Korea, 0-1, when the Koreans were expected by pundits to win by five (goals). After all, they booted Germany out of the World Cup in Russia, 2-0.”

Palami said the close call against Korea has led to a renewed optimism for the potential of the team to stand toe-to-toe with the big boys of the continent.”

“It was not so long ago when the reality of us playing against these teams were seemingly set to stay in the bucket list.”

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TAGS: Asian Cup in Dubai, Azkals, Fifa
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