By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
Senior Reporter
THE Philippine national men’s football team, now handled by high-profile coach Sven-Goran Eriksson, begins its campaign in the AFF Suzuki Cup today against Singapore at the Panaad Park and Football Stadium in Bacolod City.
Did wonders in coaching stops in England, Italy, Portugal, Ivory Coast and China, the Philippine Azkals are hoping to benefit from the presence of Mr. Eriksson, 70, on the sidelines, beginning with the regional tournament Suzuki Cup.
The Philippines will try to improve on its performance in the biennial football meet in 2016 where it failed to advance from group play.
Mr. Eriksson said he is looking forward to handling the Azkals and his first official game with the team.
“The few training sessions we have had have been very, very good. The players are dedicated, working very hard. I think the future is bright,” said Mr. Eriksson in the lead-up to the Suzuki Cup, happening until Dec. 15.
He admitted that there is pressure on the team to deliver with him on board, but they are not allowing it to hamper their preparation and derail them from their goal of winning it all.
“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 Mr. Eriksson.
Bannering the cause of the Philippines Azkals in this year’s edition of the AFF Suzuki Cup are a pool of veterans and up-and-coming stars which includes goalkeepers Neil Etheridge and Patrick Deyto, defenders Stephan Palla and Daisuke Sato, forwards Curt Dizon and Patrick Reichelt, and midfielders Mike Ott, Manny Ott, Luke Woodland and John-Patrick Strauss.
Also included in the pool are defenders Amani Aguinaldo, Alvaro Silva and Carlie De Murga, midfielders Iain Ramsay, Kevin Ingresso, Stephan Schrock and James Younghusband, and forwards Phil Younghusband, Jarvey Gayoso, Javier Patino and Misagh Bahadoran.
The Philippines is bracketed in Group B of the Suzuki Cup, joined apart from Singapore by defending champion Thailand, Indonesia and Timor-Liste.
In Group A are Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos.
Tournament format calls for the top two teams from the two groupings at the end of the home-and-away classification phase advancing to the knockout stage.
Singapore enters the match against the Philippines today off a 1-0 win over Indonesia in their Suzuki Cup opener on Nov. 9 in Kailang.
The Philippine-Singapore game kicks off at 8 p.m. and will be broadcast over AksyonTV.