By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
Senior Reporter

FOLLOWING its groundbreaking qualification for next year’s AFC Asian Cup, the Philippine national men’s football team has another opportunity to show what it is capable of doing in the AFF Suzuki Cup happening later this year.
While the Azkals are not expected to have it easy after the official draw was known on Wednesday, one local football analyst believes it is not something new for the Philippine team and that it is a platform the nationals could gain a lot from if they manage to do well.
Drawn in Group B of the biennial meet, the Philippines is to take on defending champion Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and the winner of the qualification match between Timor-Leste and Brunei.
In Group A are Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.
Lumped with the defending champion Thailand and runner-up in 2016 Indonesia, along with Singapore, analyst Lorenzo Del Carmen has the Azkals in an uphill climb in what should be considered as the “Group of Death.”
Nonetheless, the analyst, who writes for local site Tiebreaker Times, shared that it would be better to view the situation as something which could provide windfall for the Azkals in various forms.
“Well, it’s (the draw) literally the game group two years ago. Safe to say we’re in another Group of Death scenario as Thailand and Indonesia were the finalists last time around while the former was crowned champions,” said Mr. Del Carmen in an interview with BusinessWorld following the draw held on Wednesday in Jakarta.
“Two years ago we finished at sixth place, so now the only way to go is up,” he added.
In 2016, the Philippines co-hosted the regional tournament along with Myanmar.
Unfortunately for the Azkals it failed to advance to the knockout round after finishing outside of the top two in its grouping, behind Thailand and Indonesia.
Mr. Del Carmen underscored a good showing in the Suzuki Cup would do a lot in future tournaments for the national team, including the Asian Cup.
“A good showing will provide momentum for next year’s Asian Cup not only for the team but also the fans. I guess our target is to reach the semifinals again and treat each game like a final,” Mr. Del Carmen said.
Adding, “If we do reach the championship round, then that will be our biggest achievement yet since qualifying for the Asian Cup and it will mark another sign of progress for the team.”
The 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup kicks off this year with the first group stage matches to be played on Nov. 8 while the final will be held on Dec. 15.
An exciting new format is being used for the first time this year that will see each team play two games at home and two games away in the group stages. The aim of this is to provide more exposure for players in their home country and provide fans with more opportunities to back their national team on home soil.
The top two teams progress from each group into the semifinals played over two legs home and away. The final is also a two-legged affair.