By Francis Santiago
Considering the possibility that they could be pitted against the world’s best, nothing would make Azkals team manager Dan Palami happier than to see his boys reaching the third round of the qualifying tournament for the 2014 World Cup that begins this June.
“If we get into the third round, that will be a huge success already,” said Palami, the man credited for the national football team’s rise from zero to heroes.
No Philippine team has ever gotten past the first round, and Palami hopes they could make more heads turn.
Last year, the Azkals, reinforced by Fil-foreign players from Europe, reached the ASEAN Football Federation
Suzuki Cup semifinal round for the first time, sparking a football fever in the basketball-crazy nation.
“Reaching the third round would actually be surpassing the semifinal finish in the Suzuki Cup last year,” Palami said.
Palami and the team members, including German coach Hans Michael Weiss graced Monday a victory lunch gathering thrown by ABS-CBN for the squad’s recent success in the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup, where they advanced to the main draw next year.
Their opponent in the Round 1 qualifier for the planet’s most prestigious tournament that will be held in Brazil will only be known on Wednesday during a draw at 4 p.m. in Kuala Lumpur.
But Palami said they have received information that they could be squared up against either Cambodia or Afghanistan.
“But we’re not sure about that,” Palami said. “But if that is so, I think we could safely say that we will be the favored team on that draw.”
The Philippines is ranked 151st in the FIFA world rankings while Cambodia 154th and the war-torn nation Afghanistan, 195th.
“We’re really excited because finally after the draw, we can now know what kind of preparation we will use,” said Palami, who vowed to form a Dream Team, the strongest squad ever assembled for the qualifier.
Weiss said they will need five to six tuneup matches against club teams in Asia – either in Japan, Korea or Australia – to prepare for the home-and-away Round 1 which is slated June 29 and July 3.
Philippine Football Federation chief Mariano Araneta had earlier said the home game could be staged at either the Rizal Memorial football stadium in Manila or the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City. Source