The stage is set and as the AFC had just made official the list of pairings in the first round and the waiting nations in the second round for the 2014 Football World Cup, the long road for the coveted world cup stint for the Azkals has just begun.
The goal is daunting and it is a lofty goal indeed that even if Dan Palami is only asking for a third round birth, the first and second round may just turned out as equally tough.
The Philippines is officially facing Sri Lanka in the first round and then Kuwait in the second round provided that the Azkals overcomes the Sri Lankans in the first round.
At this point in time, it is probably good to know some important facts about Sri Lanka and Kuwait so that all of us Azkal fans would have a better gauge of their strenght. The report will detail their recent tournament stints.
Sri Lanka is ranked 171st in the FIFA world ranking which is comparatively inferior to the Philippines’ 151st ranking. However you may get surprised to know that Sri Lanka is one of the respected football countries in the “emerging nations” category.
If the Philippines is making its first ever appearance in the AFC Challenge Cup in 2012, Sri Lanka in contrast has been a fixture in said tournament as they have qualified for that event in its last three stagings–2006, 2008 and 2010. Sri Lanka even finished runner up in the 2006 version of the said event.
Sri Lanka qualified for the AFC Challenge Cup 2010 by topping Group D. They repulsed Brunei 5-1, Taiwan 2-1 and drew with Pakistan 2-2.
As they went on to the actual AFC Challenge Cup 2010 tournament, Sri Lanka was grouped with Tajikistan, Myanmar and Bangladesh and landed third with Bangladesh.
The third placing for Sri Lanka automatically prevented them to advance in the knockout stage of the tournament. The scores were a 4-0 lost to Myanmar (the Azkals drew all of their matches with Myanmar recently), a 3-1 lost to Tajikistan then gained little respect by blanking recent Azkals victim Bangladesh 3-0.
On the other hand, just like in the coming 2014 World Cup first round qualification, Sri Lanka entered in the first round of the 2010 version of the World Cup. They were massacred by Qatar in the first round with an aggregate score of 6-0, thus, did not progress.
Sri Lanka has not finished yet their AFC Challenge Cup 2012 qualification. As while the Philippines has already made official their qualification in the said 2012 tournament, Sri Lanka would just start its own journey on April 7 being grouped with defending champion North Korea, Afghanistan and Nepal.
These dates would give the Azkals the luxury to scout Sri Lanka that could come out handy when they meet for the world cup qualifier in July.
Kuwait, Thailand, Oman and Lebanon were the nations that are waiting for winners from the first round. Kuwait, as confirmed to be the Azkals’ future opponent in the second round is actually the second highest FIFA ranked nation amongst the other 3 waiting nations.
The highest ranked is Qatar 90th, then Kuwait 103rd, Thailand 118th then Lebanon 169th. It would have been better probably if we are facing Lebanon or Thailand as these two nations has lower rankings but it is all official, the winner between Sri Lanka-Philippines tussle will meet Kuwait in the second round.
Kuwait is considered one of the elites in Asia that it carries the pride of beating Australia in the recent 2011 AFC Asian Cup.
Kuwait qualified for the AFC Asian Cup 2011 tourney when it placed second behind Australia during the qualification stage of the event.
Grouped with Oman, Indonesia and of course Australia, the Kuwaitis with their home and away series with their group members drew and won over Indonesia (1-1, 2-1), drew and lost to Oman (0-1,0-0) then won and lost to eventual world cup qualifier Australia (1-2,1-0).
The victory over Australia simply established Kuwait as one of the elites in Asia.
As they went on to the AFC Asian Cup 2011 actual tourney, Kuwait was in group A with Uzbekistan, Qatar and China and landed 4th and last with no victory against the three Asian giants.
In the 2010 world cup qualification stage, Kuwait was entered in the first round against Bhutan, but Bhutan withdrew from the competition giving Kuwait a walkover win paving the way for them to advance in the third round where they met Syria, UAE and Iran in group 5. They finished last in the group and did not advance further winning only over Syria but lost big against UAE and Iran.
The middle east nations are regarded as traditionally better than most of their oriental Asian counterparts because history tells that soccer is the premier sport in that part of the world. They play like the Europeans, rugged and with solid plays on the pitch.
Dan Palami said the third round is the goal for the Philippines that such would mean a lot for the surging Azkals. However, Kuwait is a big stumbling block that could spoil Palami’s dream of making it in the third round.
The thing is facing Kuwait would be history in itself as Kuwait (ranked 103rd) will be the highest ranked football nation that the Philippines could face after meeting Indonesia last year which was ranked 129 in the world. Source