MANILA, Philippines – The Azkals' steady improvement in the last two years did not only draw the attention of their regional competitors, it also gained recognition from the world’s football governing body.
The Philippine national football team, which climbed to its highest ever world ranking at 143, was featured on FIFA’s official website.
In the article titled “Ambitious Azkals target regional glory,” the website attributed the team’s string of successes to its consistent development under coach Hans Michael Weiss.
“Since the German took the reins in January 2011, the Philippines have enjoyed a string of impressive results, giving the nation’s burgeoning fan base cause for optimism ahead of this month’s AFF Suzuki Cup,” the report said.
FIFA also cited the Azkals’ accomplishments in the AFC Challenge Cup where they defeated former titlists Tajikistan, India before overcoming Palestine for a bronze medal.
The Azkals first broke out to prominence when they shocked the competition by forcing Singapore to a 1-1 draw, upsetting 2008 champion Vietnam (2-0), then holding Myanmar to a scoreless in the 2010 Suzuki Cup.
The effort was good enough for the Azkals to earn a qualification to the 2010 semifinals.
The breakout performance forced their regional rivals to consider the Philippines as a genuine force in the 2012 edition of the Cup.
"In 2010 we surprised everyone," team manager Dan Palami said in the report.
"Now they don’t consider us as underdogs and every team is expecting to have a hard time against us. And we have to live up to the expectations not only of the Filipino fans but the other teams. We must stand by our ranking."
The Azkals are scheduled to play against Singapore in a friendly game on Wednesday before they head to Thailand for the 2012 Suzuki Cup.
The 2012 Cup begins on November 24.