PFF to assemble elite Azkals roster

By Olmin Leyba, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jun 15 2012 04:08 PM | Updated as of Jun 16 2012 12:08 AM

MANILA, Philippines - As the Azkals kicked off their build-up for the AFF Suzuki Cup with recent friendlies against Malaysia, Indonesia and Guam, the Philippine Football Federation and team management are going the extra mile to put up a highly prepared, full-strength side to ASEAN’s premier competition in November.

PFF president Nonong Araneta said the federation is prepared to spend for training camps abroad and even for compensation for the European clubs to release their Fil-foreign players to the national team.

“We’re prepared to put up the best team – at whatever cost,” said Araneta, intimating their plans for the Suzuki Cup, where Phl is bent on trying to duplicate or surpass their breakthrough semifinal stint in 2010.

Being a competition that’s not part of the Fifa calendar’s so-called international match days, the PFF and team officials led by manager Dan Palami have to double their efforts to convince the clubs to allow the concerned high-caliber booters to suit up for Phl XI.

“If we make proper representations with their clubs, I think we can (have the players released). We should convince them that if the players will just be sitting on the bench during those time, it would be better for them to release their players and we hope (they will act favorably on our request),” Araneta said.

“If we can compensate for their services, then we’ll do the costing and talk to the clubs,” he added.

The Azkals, though, are also preparing for the possibility that the Europe-based players won’t be around.

“Our intention is for all of the players to be available for the Suzuki Cup. But on one hand, I have instructed the coach to work on the worst-case scenario – that the Europeans might not be available. So the key now is to have more locally-based players in the team and practice as often as we can,” said Palami.

Training camps in neighboring countries like Thailand and Hong Kong and matches against clubs there are being eyed for the Phl-based players in the Azkals pool.

“The locally-based players who might not get exposure in playing against the A team of other countries will get their time, helping them achieve confidence, and the team cohesion and match fitness that we would need prior to the Suzuki Cup. Of course, if and when the European players come, then that would be an added bonus for us,” said Palami.

The last edition of the Suzuki Cup in 2010 served as stepping stone for the Azkals, who shocked the world with a 2-0 upset of then defending champion Vietnam and eventually made the Last 4. From there, the Azkals continued their rise, copping a bronze medal in the AFC Challenge Cup last March.

“We’re already number 3 in Southeast Asia (in terms of world ranking) so we would at least be considered a contender. But I’m sure the other teams are preparing as hard and we should not be sitting on our laurel after our third place finish in the Challenge Cup,” said Palami.

“In fact, we should work hard because this time, when we go to the Suzuki Cup, unlike the last time, we come in as a favorite rather than underdog and they would play differently against us now,” he added.