MANILA---The Philippine football team got a massive boost on the eve of its departure for Myanmar yesterday as Filipino-Danish midfielder Jerry Lucena and Filipino-British defender Rob Gier confirmed their appearance in the group stage of the AFC Challenge Cup in Rangoon.
Lucena, one of the players who have long been in the Azkals’ wish list, is expected to play in the last two games of the group stage against Palestine and Bangladesh, while Gier will link up with the rest of the squad today in Bangkok, where they will take the flight to the Burmese capital.
A veteran of the Championship, the second-tier league in Britain, Gier will only play the first two games—against Myanmar on Monday and Bangladesh on Wednesday.
Hopes are also high that Jason de Jong will be able to make it to Myanmar, after Philippine Football Federation president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta appealed to the Indonesian Football Federation to convince De Jong’s club, Persiba Balikpapan, to release the Filipino-Dutch midfielder for the tournament.
“I think we will be coming in with the strongest team possible,” said team manager Dan Palami. “It’s a little difficult with Gier and Lucena only playing two games, but we leave knowing that the prayers and aspirations of the country are behind us.”
Born to a Filipino father and a Danish mother, the 30-year-old Lucena, who played for Denmark in the Under-19 and Under-20 levels, was earlier ruled out for the tournament after picking up an injury while training with his club Aarhus in the Danish first division.
Lucena can play the attacking midfield position, considered one of the squad’s weak spots in the absence of Chris Greatwich, the team’s top scorer in last year’s AFC Suzuki Cup.
Also back for the group stage is goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, defender David Basa and Ricardo Becite, while Yannick Tuason, William Guerridon Espinosa and Angel Aldeguer, the tall Spanish striker expected to fill the void left by the injured Phil Younghusband, have been called up for the first time in the tournament.
Meanwhile, the PFF and Suzuki Philippines have formalized their partnership for the staging of the PFF Suzuki Cup Under-23 Championship, where 26 teams are expected to vie.
PFF president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta and Satoshi Ochida of Suzuki signed the memorandum of agreement making Suzuki the tournament’s sponsor for the next three years.