By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE Philippine men’s national football team begins its journey for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in a home game today against Syria in Bacolod City.
Set for 7:30 p.m., the Philippine Azkals start their trek in Group A of the second round of qualification where they hope to finish on top of the grouping, or at a least have one of the best four runner-up records among the eight groups, to advance to the next round of the World Cup qualifiers.
Others in Group A are China, Maldives and Guam.
The competition also serves as a joint qualifier for the AFC Asian Cup 2023.
Against Syria, happening at the Panaad Park and Football Stadium, the Azkals will feature a 23-man roster composed mostly of team staples in tournaments past, including the 2019 Asian Cup, led by Stephan Schrock, Daisuke Sato and Patrick Reichelt.
Also part of the squad are goalkeepers Patrick Deyto, Michael Falkesgaard and Kevin Hansen, defenders Amani Aguinaldo, Mikel Baas, Marco Casambre, Carli De Murga, Sean Kane, Alvaro Silva and Martin Steuble, midfielders Yrick Gallantes, Angel Guirado, Kevin Ingreso, Manny Ott, Mike Ott, Iain Ramsay, John-Patrick Strauss, Mark Hartmann, Javier Patino and OJ Porteria.
Coaching the team is newly appointed Goran Milosevic of Serbia, assisted by Hezirdan Ramadani and goalkeeping coach Milos Simic. Erstwhile coach Scott Cooper has been designated as assistant team manager.
The team said in the lead-up that key for it was finding the right blend of players from which to draw its attack from and is taking it one game at a time.
“We are taking it one game at a time, beginning with the opener against Syria here at home on Sept. 5,” said Mr. Cooper.
“We’re very positive and the expectation is to win, not just see what we can do against these teams. We went to the Asian Cup (last January) and performed well against South Korea, but not so much in the last two games (against China and Kyrgyzstan). This time, the mentality has to be spot-on. We have to give a bit more fight and have a lot more belief. Performances are always good, but we need results,” he added.
The Philippines-Azkals game will be broadcast live over 5PLUS.