MANILA, Philippines -- If all goes according to plan, the Philippine Azkals will be in Singapore for the AFF Suzuki Cup until January 1, causing them to miss the holiday season with their families.
It's a sacrifice that the Azkals are willing to make as they look to bring back the Philippines' first major international trophy.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Suzuki Cup was twice delayed, with the Asian federation eventually deciding to hold it in a centralized venue -- Singapore -- from December 5, 2021 until January 1, 2022. Matches began on December 5, although the Philippines won't open its campaign until December 8, against the host nation.
"For me, I feel so happy," said naturalized striker Bienvenido Marañon, who will make his long-awaited Azkals debut in the Suzuki Cup. "I feel so happy to be here, and my family is very happy that I stay here."
"You know, Christmas is every year. Playing with Azkals is not every year," Marañon pointed out. "My family also supports me."
It helps that they were able to spend some time with their families before leaving for Singapore, according to Martin Steuble, the veteran defender.
"I was lucky enough to spend a few days with my family… Christmas is all about togetherness, to spend time with each other. We kinda did that, we had a chance to do that. Now the full focus is on football and the Azkals," he explained.
"Same as Bienve -- there will be Christmas the next year and the following year, there will be Christmas as well. I think it's not too bad to spend sometime, playing football with the Azkals," Steuble also said.
The group stage is until December 18, while the semifinals run from December 22 to 26. The championship, a two-legged affair, is scheduled for December 29 and January 1.
For Marañon, his hope is that they will stay in Singapore until the start of the new year.
"That means we did something great," the Spanish-born striker said.
Scott Cooper, the Azkals coach, said the team must make the sacrifices worth it for themselves and their families as well.
"I'm a big Christmas fan, and in the New Year I like being around the family. And so, if you're gonna be away from them at the time, then make it count," said Cooper.
"Let's try to give everybody an extra Christmas present, and enjoy ourselves."
After playing Singapore on Wednesday, the Azkals will play Timor Leste on December 11, Thailand on December 14, and Myanmar on December 18. Only the top two teams in each group will advance to the knockout stages.