Azkals in for busy schedule as AFC announces new dates for qualifying matches
The Philippine Azkals have their work cut out for them with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) rescheduling the remaining matches in the 2022 World Cup Qualifying and 2023 AFC Asian Cup to October and November this year.
The easing of quarantine rules in several countries has prompted the AFC to set a target date for the resumption of the competition, where the Azkals are still in contention for a place in the third round.
Originally scheduled last March 26, the Azkals’ match against Guam will now be played on Oct. 8. The Philippine Football Federation (PFF) has yet to decide where the match will be played as the government has yet to lift restrictions on contact sports.
Two more matches are slated in November for the Azkals with an away clash against China slated on Nov. 12 and the Maldives at home five days later.
As it stands, the Azkals have an outside chance of reaching the third round for the first time as one of the four best second placed teams in the qualifiers.
The match against China could determine the fate of the Azkals as both teams have seven points from four matches.
But while the Chinese have already held several training camps following the coronavirus pandemic in the country, the Azkals have been inactive since the lockdown last March.
Azkals coach Scott Cooper, however, has kept tabs on the fitness of his players, most of whom play in the Thai League and the Philippines Football League (PFL). The Thai League will start in September, while the PFF is hoping to get a nod from the government to start the PFL by July.
Cooper is also expected to have Michael Kempter in his squad after the Filipino-Swiss defender’s change in sporting nationality was approved by Fifa. Kempter has played for Switzerland’s youth team.
The AFC is looking to finish the final round of the qualifiers by March next year.
A statement from the Asian football body said it will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure the safety and well-being of all teams, officials, fans and stakeholders.
“Should there be a need to reassess the match schedules due to the ever-evolving impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the body will notify all parties,” it added.
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