MANILA, Philippines – Buoyed by their recent successes, the Philippine Azkals will be playing with more confidence when they play against Southeast Asian powerhouses in the coming Suzuki Cup.
The Azkals, now ranked 143rd in the world, are now being considered as equals when compared to more established teams in Southeast Asia.
Phil Younghusband, one of the better-known Azkals, admitted that their current FIFA rank reflected how far they have improved from recent years.
“I think, for us confidence-wise, psychologically we know Philippine football is still growing, is still rising… hopefully we can carry on with that progress,” said Younghusband during the Suzuki Philippines’ send-off for the Azkals.
However, he pointed out that they still have to bring their “A” game to the Cup especially against the likes of 2012 Cup host Thailand and Vietnam.
“The world ranking doesn’t make a difference. It depends on what we’ll bring into the pitch on game day,” said Younghusband.
Chieffy Caligdong agrees.
The fleet-footed team captain still considers his team as an underdog compared to their Southeast Asian competitors.
“Underdogs pa rin kami. Pero iba na ang version ng Azkals kumpara sa 2010,” he said.
But he believes the team has what it takes to duplicate or even surpass their semifinal finish in the Cup two years ago.
“Hindi naman kami nag-a-assume na makakapasok agad sa semifinals, pero siguro may tiwala ako sa kakayanan naming lahat,” said Caligdong.
The team has undergone intense preparations, including a week-long training camp in the Middle East, for the Suzuki Cup.
The team opens its campaign against Thailand on November 24.
Azkals coach Hans Michael Weiss said they will be spending the last two weeks making final adjustments in their lineup.
“We will use the last two weeks for fine tuning and making the team even a little bit better and make our game plans for Thailand. We’ll be ready by then,” he said.
Philippine Football Federation (PFF) president Nonong Araneta was also elated by the Azkals’ current stature in the international arena.
But he stressed that the team puts more importance on winning games, not just improving its ranking.
“The ranking does not have any bearing to the Suzuki Cup, although we have higher ranking than opposing teams, but they are still strong teams,” he said.
“At least not we’re going to the Suzuki Cup with the winning mind. We want to win, not like before we just want to participate. At least now we have an equal chance against them,” added Araneta.
The Azkals, which receives backing from Suzuki Philippines, still has one more friendly game against Singapore this November 15 before flying to Bangkok for the Cup.
Suzuki Philippines president Satoshi Uchida, an avid football fan, said he is looking forward to see the Azkals impress fans in the Cup.
“I hope they reach the semifinals again so they will have a home game. I am looking forward to that.”