MANILA, Philippines – After months of rigorous training and mini-camps held in the United States, Middle East and Japan, the Philippine Azkals are finally ready to compete in the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup.
Now reinforced with more professional Fil-foreign players from different parts of the world, the Azkals are definitely anything but under the radar, the way they were in 2010.
The men's national football team left for Thailand Tuesday.
Chieffy Caligdong, co-captain and long-time veteran, agrees that this is arguably the strongest team the country is fielding in years.
He is happy to see progress in terms of team chemistry and skills development within the Azkals, who stunned the Southeast Asian football scene in 2010 when they reached the semi-finals of the Suzuki Cup.
Coach Hans Michael Weiss meanwhile admits the increased attention to the team also adds expectation and pressure.
He knows they are now more respected in the Southeast Asian region and therefore, the Azkals must come into the matches with utmost respect for every single opponent.
Brothers Phil and James Younghusband said they cannot wait to get another crack at the competition in the Suzuki Cup, as they are eager to prove that their run to the semi-finals in 2010 was no fluke.
After a controversial misunderstanding with management a month ago, the brothers will most likely be part of the starting XI after coming off the bench in their last few matches.
One final issue that will be resolved in the next few days is the availability of first-choice goal-keeper Neil Etheridge.
The Philippines is bracketed with Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam. The top two finishers of the group will advance to the home and away two-leg semi-finals in December.