Mixed reactions elicited by Azkals’ top brass during World Cup qualifiers draw

By Diego de la Paz

A temporarily jubilant Philippine delegation camped at the stage of the old Charles Fuller Baker Hall at the University of the Philippines Los Baños quickly became disappointed after the draws for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Asia qualifiers were announced on Wednesday at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) House in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

(PFF) president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta, Azkals team manager Dan Stephen Palami, Azkals head coach Hans Michael Weiss and the members of the media on hand for the PFF Suzuki U-23 National Cup collectively followed the live drawing of the men’s national team’s opponents in the qualifying tournament.

In the first round, the Philippines were picked to face Sri Lanka, a team who is still lumped in Group D of the ongoing AFC Challenge Cup qualifying tournament that will be held from April 7 to 11. As of today, the “Brave Reds” are ranked at 173 in the FIFA World Rankings.

Jubilations and congratulations were exchanged within the room after the announcement was made, along with immediate plans for Coach Weiss to either fly off to Kathmandu to personally scout Sri Lanka or to stay home and find ways to gain the tapes of their upcoming matches.

Initially, the scribes within the room were wishing for a showdown with Afghanistan in order for the Azkals to have an outside shot at having a rare “home-and-home” series against the war-torn nation.

When the second came around and Kuwait’s name was drawn, tensions rose within the room and hopes were running high that they would not be selected to compete against “Al-Aziraq” in the second phase of the competition, should the team get past “The Brave Reds”.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. The winner of their fixture against Sri Lanka will indeed face the Kuwaitis, who are currently pegged at 101 in the current FIFA World Rankings.

The long route to the 2014 FIFA World Cup will begin on either June 29 or 30th at Sri Lanka for the first leg of the home-and-away series. The return leg, which will be played at either Panaad Park and Stadium in Bacolod City or at the famed Rizal Memorial Track and Football Stadium in Manila, will be held on July 3.

PFF prexy Nonong Araneta announced to the press that he will personally inspect the pitch at Rizal Memorial for improvements that must be done to the stadium for it to be up to par with international in time for it to be considered to host the match in July.

Should the team advance to the second round, their first leg match will be held on July 23 in Kuwait, while the return leg on home soil will be on July 28.

“When our backs are against the wall, that’s when we shine” said team manager Dan Palami after the draws have been completed. “We have to prepare ourselves as if it’s our last match.” Source