By Cedelf P. Tupas
Southeast Asian powerhouse Vietnam has also turned down the invitation of the Philippine Football Federation for a friendly duel with the Azkals on October 9 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila.
PFF president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta said he plans to invite Bangladesh—a team the Azkals defeated, 3-nil, in the AFC Challenge Cup last March, but are ranked 16 places higher than the Philippines at 146 in the Fifa rankings.
Araneta said holding a friendly at a Fifa international date like October 9 is the only way to ensure that all players, especially those based in Europe, will be released by their clubs.
Among the Europe-based players in the national team are Stephan Schrock, who plays for Greuther Furth in the German second division; Neil Etheridge, the second-choice keeper of Fulham in the English Premiere League; and Paul Mulders, who plays for ADO Den Haag in the Dutch Eredivise.
“This is still part of our build-up for the Challenge Cup next year,” Araneta said. “We have to prepare our team for that tournament, and one of the ways to do it is by having them play together in international matches.”
Nepal, which will host the Challenge Cup in March next year, had earlier declined the Philippines’ invitation for a friendly in October, citing a festival in the country during that month.
Malaysia also declined, citing the unavailability of its players who are playing in the domestic league, Araneta said.
But the reigning Southeast Asian champions are actually scheduled to play a friendly against 2006 and 2010 World Cup qualifier Australia in Sydney on October 7.
Vietnam has a big Asian opponent in October in Japan, which it will face in a friendly in Kobe.
Notwithstanding the spurned offers, Araneta said he would rather focus on the fact that it is now the PFF looking for friendly international matches for the Azkals unlike before when the team barely gets to play warmup matches.
“We want the Azkals to play against a country that is ranked higher than us, so a win will help boost our standings,” Araneta said. Published in Inquirer Sports