BANGKOK – Azkals coach Michael Weiss said the Philippines should sustain efforts to improve and rise in stature even beyond the ongoing AFF Suzuki Cup, and target a place in Asia’s most prestigious bootfest, the Asian Cup, over the next two years.
“We’re not yet at that stage where we can dominate an opponent. That should be the target for 2013 and 2014, in order to win the (AFC) Challenge Cup and go to the Asian Cup,” the German mentor said.
The Challenge Cup, a tourney for “emerging” countries, serves as qualifying for the 2015 Asian Cup, where the likes of reigning Asian champ Japan, South Korea, Australia, and 2012 Challenge Cup titlist North Korea are already in.
The Challenge Cup will hold its qualification phase next year and its main competition in 2014, where the eventual runner advances to the Asian Cup the following year. The Philippine Football Federation has placed a bid to host the Challenge Cup.
“It still requires a lot of work. We need additional players, quality players. We need to focus on young ones in Phl. We need to build two national teams of locally-based players already, plus top players, especially center defenders. This is the procedure we’re in now,” said Weiss.
The German mentor’s contract expires by the end of the year and according to team manager Dan Palami there have been initial talks for renewal already.
The Azkals rose to prominence after their surprise semifinal stint in the 2010 edition of the Asean bootfest, then followed it up with a bronze medal in the 2012 Challenge Cup and solid performances against higher-ranked rivals in friendlies.
Even Thailand’s German coach Winfried Schafer takes notice of the Azkals’ emergence under his compatriot.
“Listen to your coach,” he said when asked for advice. “You have a good coach, a German. Listen to him. Give him time and I think Phl can go step by step better.”
Recruiting high-quality Fil-foreign players also helps crank up the team’s quality, said Schafer.
“I heard you have one scout, watching games in Europe, looking for players who can represent Phl, whose mother or father comes from Phl. That’s a good idea,” he said, claiming to know Fil-German Stephan Schrock, one of Phl’s top pros in Europe.