Azkals bunched with familiar foes in WC qualifying bid
A slew of familiar opponents stands in the way of the Philippines’ bid in making the third round of 2022 World Cup qualifying for the first time in history.
China, Maldives and Guam, which have all played against the Azkals in recent years, landed in Group A together with Syria and the Philippines following the draw in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.
Syria, the No. 2 seed in the group, has not played against the Philippines in 18 years, but they will be the Azkals’ first assignment on Sept. 5 at home at Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City. The Filipinos then travel to face the Maldives four days later in their first away game.
The top team in each of the eight groups in the qualifying phase are guaranteed of a spot in the third round together with the four best second-placed teams.
The countries that enter the third round also gain automatic spots to the 2023 Asian Cup in China.
In the previous edition of qualifying, the Azkals wound up third in their group behind Uzbekistan and North Korea, but the finish allowed them to gain automatic entry to the third round of qualifying for the Asian Cup.
“It’s still a tough draw, but this is an already good draw compared to the last qualification phase,” Azkals manager Dan Palami said. “We seem to be improving every time we face China. We have beaten the Maldives and Guam, but we can’t underestimate them and of course, Syria is always a dangerous opponent because they’re always a contender for World Cup spots.”