MANILA, Philippines - Its Fifa World Cup dream dashed for now, the Philippines shifts its aspirations to the next big competitions in the region – the Southeast Asian Games in November for the Under-23 team and the AFC Challenge Cup next year for the Azkals seniors side.
Taking off from the Azkals’ breakthrough second-round stint in the World Cup Asian Qualifiers, the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) looks to win a first-ever medal in the SEAG in Indonesia, setting training camps abroad to hone up the squad.
“Coach Michael Weiss has already submitted a program so we’ll just be going to discuss the budget. There will be two camps abroad for the U-23. One in the Middle East. And if the situation in Japan has already normalized, then we want to go to Japan,” PFF president Nonong Araneta said.
Some of the younger Azkals like Jason de Jong, Simon Greatwich and Manuel Ott will reinforce the U-23 side, boosting Phl’s drive to break into the medal picture in men’s football for the very first time in the biennial meet.
“We will definitely vie, work for that medal. We have a good chance, we’ve a good team and I think with the camp that we’re planning, with the training we’re preparing, the team will go a long way,” said Araneta.
Goalkeeper Neil Etheridge of Fulham is eligible at age 21, but he’s non-committal for the SEAG campaign as of now.
“I’m not sure (if I’ll be available). I still have to check my schedule (in England),” said the Fil-Britisth Azkals star.
Weiss said he will bring some of the youngsters with the Azkals senior team when they compete in the Long Teng Cup in Kaohsiung, Taiwan Sept. 28-Oct. 6 “to test their readiness for the SEA Games.” After this, an intensive four-week training is up, highlighted by camps in Dubai and Bahrain.
The Long Teng will also start off the Azkals’ buildup for the AFC Challenge Cup from March 3-8, 2012. The winner qualifies for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup finals, Asia’s premiere football meet where reigning champ Japan and powerhouses Australia and South Korea are already seeded.
“The Azkals’ main forcus will be the AFC Challenge Cup eight months from now. We’ll be trying to go directly to the Asian Cup so for this one, we have to get all players ready,” said Weiss.
The Azkals will take a monthlong break after their 1-5 loss to fancied Kuwait in the World Cup prelims, including a 1-2 heartbreaker at the Rizal pitch.
“This is an achievement even if we lost twice to Kuwait,” Weiss said. “We’re in a growing process and the team can only learn from these experiences.”