MANILA, Philippines - Aiming to move farther than their modest achievements to date, the Philippine Azkals have trained their sights on the 2015 AFC Asian Cup, where the continent’s top guns like Japan and Korea regularly play.
The Pinoy booters, coming off a second straight semifinal stint in the AFF Suzuki Cup, begin their ambitious journey towards Asia’s version of the World Cup when they vie in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers slated Mar. 22-26 at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
The Challenge Cup serves as qualifying meet to the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup in Maldives, where the champion will eventually book a spot in the Asian Cup in Australia the following year.
“We’re undertaking a program that will hopefully take us to the Asian Cup. The first step towards this is the qualifying that we’ll host,” Azkals manager Dan Palami said during yesterday’s PSA Forum.
Azkals will host 2012 runner-up Turkmenistan, Cambodia and Brunei in Group E, seeking to top the group, or be one of the two best group runners- up, to advance to the Challenge Cup main draw for a shot at the Asian Cup tourney.
“That’s the long-term program and in order for us to achieve it, we’re calling up local players to various training camps and at the same time, we’re looking at players based abroad,” he added.
The Azkals, at least those based in Phl, will get back together on Jan. 28-30 yet in a three-day camp at Rizal designed to jumpstart their buildup. They have also set a friendly against Myanmar in Yangon on Feb. 6.
Behind the scenes, Azkals management and the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) are busy taking care of matters that need to be resolved and finalized – the contract extension of coach Michael Weiss and the recruitment of Fil-Spanish striker Javier Lachica Patiño of Cordoba FC.
Weiss, whose two-year contract expired this month, has been offered a six-month extension by the PFF.
“He’s indicated that more or less, he’s going to accept it,” said PFF general secretary Ed Gastanes, the officer tasked to negotiate with Weiss. “He just requires some other provisions and considerations which we’re currently discussing.”
The federation is rushing to process the documents of Patiño, who traces his roots to Cebu, for the Challenge Cup.
“He (Patiño) is one of the more experienced, active strikers in the European circuit,” Palami said of the 24-year-old forward who has 10 goals in 44 appearances for Cordoba since 2011.