MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Football Federation (PFF) is confident that the Philippine Azkals will have most of their key players, including those who are playing in professional leagues, in time for their important World Cup qualifying games.
PFF President Mariano “Nonong” Araneta said in an interview with ANC’s Hardball that the professional players, mostly Filipino-foreigners, are likely to be allowed by their mother clubs to join the Nationals for the FIFA World Cup qualifying games.
“Since it's already the end of the leagues (football season) in Europe, they are coming here by May or June for the preparations,” said Araneta.
Among the Azkal members playing in professional leagues abroad are Filipino-British goalkeeper Neil Etheridge (Fulham Club), Filipino-Danish fullback Jerry Lucena (Danish First Division side AGF Aarhus), and Filipino-Dutch midfielder Jason de Jong (Persiba Balikpapan in Indonesia).
The Azkals are due to face Sri Lanka for a home-and-away World Cup qualifying series on June 29 and July 3.
If they beat Sri Lanka, they will play the stronger Kuwaiti football team in the next round.
“[The series is] a part of the FIFA calendar so they can always be released by their teams,” said Araneta.
In some AFC Challenge Cup games, Etheridge and De Jong were not able to suit up for the Azkals because of commitments with their football clubs.
Araneta added they are mulling whether to send the Azkals to a training camp either in Australia or in the Middle East
“We’re now looking for several options for camp in Australia or the somewhere Middle East so we can prepare not only for Sri Lanka but also for Kuwait,” said Araneta.
Meanwhile, Araneta said they will inspect Rizal Memorial Stadium to check if it will be suitable for the Azkals’ home game against Sri Lanka on July 3.
“We'll go to the Rizal Memorial to look at the stadium. From there, we will find out how we can prepare the stadium for the July 3 home game of the Azkals,” he said.
Also being considered for the home game is the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City.
The away game will take place in Sri Lanka on June 29.