Sketchy travel plans
Travel restrictions could pose as a major concern for the Philippine Azkals when they resume their bid in the 2022 Fifa World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup joint qualifying tournament in October.
Azkals coach Scott Cooper expressed surprise that the Asian Football Confederation already committed dates for matches in October and November this year even as some countries are still facing a health crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I thought we wouldn’t be playing too late in the year as it’ll be better if there’s a vaccine and we can play in front of fans,” Cooper said.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty now. We don’t even know if the away game in China is actually going to be in China and how Guam and Maldives feel about traveling here [to the Philippines].”
The Azkals host Guam in Oct. 7 before visiting China on Nov. 12 and playing Maldives at home five days later.
A sweep of the three matches may just be enough for the Philippines to make it to the next round together with group leader Syria, which has won all of its first five games.
Cooper said he is committed to whip the Azkals into a fighting team as they try to nail a spot in the third round of the competition that will also punch their ticket to the Asian Cup.
“We are continuing to work towards these matches,” Cooper said.
“Once we know when we can hold a [training] camp and it’s official and it’s safe, we will be sending out letters to the clubs [of our players].”
Player availability could be key for Cooper as most of his players are based overseas, particularly in Thailand, whose professional league is slated to start in September.
“We would love to start talking about preparing to travel as we don’t know if it’s going to be permissible in some countries because there are different restrictive rules,” Cooper said. “How would that work? I’m not entirely sure. So, this is a tough one.”
Cooper has a handful of players based in the country to consider particularly in the Philippines Football League as well as the Azkals Development Team.
The availability of Michael Kempter should also be a big boost for the Azkals.
“We know the players we want in the squad and we keep working towards that,” Cooper said. “We will continue to work with new players and looking at who’s available. Hopefully, I’ve got a selection dilemma on my hands when it comes to the matches.”
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