By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE Philippine national men’s football team begins its campaign in the AFF Suzuki Cup next week where it sees a tough challenge from the rest of the field but nonetheless expressed readiness for it.
In a press conference held on Monday at Max’s Kabisera at the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig City, the think tank of the Philippine Azkals, namely new coach Sven-Goran Eriksson, team manager Dan Palami, consultant Scott Cooper and advertising manager Jun Miras, met members of media and shared their thoughts on their upcoming campaign in the biennial regional football tournament.
They said that they are very excited to compete even as they recognize that a competitive challenge awaits them.
For Mr. Eriksson, who has had an illustrious coaching career with stops in Italy, Portugal, United Arab Emirates, and China, there is pressure to produce good results with him on board but they in the collective are not allowing it to hamper their preparation and go for what they have set out to do.
“The pressure is on the whole team, the directors, the federation, the coaching staff and myself to do better in the Suzuki Cup than what the Philippines had done before. There is pressure, of course, because there are a lot of good teams in the tournament but we are going to try and we look forward to it,” said the new Azkals coach.
Mr. Eriksson has taken over Mr. Cooper, who temporarily handled the Azkals following the surprise backing out of British Terry Butcher barely two months since being named as coach in the middle of this year.
Mr. Cooper, who will be assisting in the handling of the team, said with the background of Mr. Eriksson and very capable players in their fold, the Philippines should have a good chance in the Suzuki Cup.
“The challenge has always been the same. We understand that Southeast Asia has good teams like Vietnam and Thailand. But we also understand that we have players who could do good things as well. They know where we want to be and we are focused on what we want to do. We also have a World Cup coach who knows how to get it done,” Mr. Cooper said.
It is same enthusiasm that long-time team manager Palami shares.
“We look forward to the experience that our coaches would bring to the team. We know it’s not going to be easy but we are doing the best we can,” he said.
The Azkals begin their Suzuki Cup bid on Nov. 13 against Singapore at the Panaad Football Stadium.
Apart from Singapore, joining the Philippines in Group B of the Suzuki Cup are Thailand, Indonesia and Timor-Liste.
In Group A are Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.
In the 2016 edition of the AFF Suzuki Cup, which the Philippines co-hosted with Myanmar, the Azkals failed to advance beyond group play.
The team is also set to see action in its first AFC Asian Cup competition next year, which the Azkals think tank is also looking forward to.
By Michael Angelo S. Murillo