By now, much has been said on the Philippine Azkals’ failure to go beyond the group stage of the 2020 AFF Suzuki Cup in Singapore.
Had a talk with team manager Dan Palami on his take why the team failed to go deep in the tournament, where the Azkals were able to enter the final four several times in the past.
While he praised the gallant efforts of the team to compete against Singapore, Timor-Leste, Thailand and Myanmar, he said several reasons added to the result.
Since the tournament fell on non-FIFA dates, he said several players were not released by their mother clubs to play for the country. Not to take away anything from the players, who answered the call to play for the flag, Palami said it affected the team’s preparations.
He also said that local-based players have only played nine games in the last two years due to the pandemic, while the other teams are coming fresh from their domestic leagues. So fitness and match readiness have been plus factors for the opposition.
Palami, however, admitted that at the end of the day, the Azkals need to make major changes.
“It is like a report card that reads needs improvement,” he said.
The biggest lesson, he added, is that the team should have prepared better. Hopefully, the team will not commit the same mistakes as it sets its eyes on the third round of the 2023 Asian Cup in June next year.
Palami says the team will have a camp in January featuring new players with Scott Cooper in charge. Incidentally, Cooper will also be evaluated on what he will do with the team in the upcoming camp. Cooper’s contract will expire next year.
He expects more players to be available in the January camp that will basically form the core of the team that will compete come June.
On February 24, 2022, the draw for the third round will be made. At least eight groups, composed of four teams, will be featured in the next phase of the competition. The top two teams in each group will advance in the next round.
Palami said a strong domestic league by February next year will address the fitness of players based in the country that will eventually be called to form the national pool.
There’s a need to restart or reboot the team going to the next competition,” he explained.
The Azkals will definitely need a lot of things to do and with the pandemic still a major threat to everyone, makes the challenges harder to accomplish. Six months may not be enough but work needs to start somewhere and soon.
The need to assemble and prepare the best possible team is a must for the country to return to the continent’s biggest football event after making its debut in Dubai and Abu Dhabi two years ago.
Assembling the team is just the beginning — the coaching staff must also do its share and with many lessons learned in the pandemic and health restrictions easing up, I’m sure Coach Scott has something definite for the team.
To see the next generation of Azkals also give me hope that we will be in China in June to July 2023. My gratitude also to those who have answered the call to play for the county before them, and to the Philippine Football Federation for giving the team all the support and love it deserves.
But this should not stop here and dwell on the wish list. Let’s bring back the Azkals’ mighty bark and even greater bite!
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Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas! Stay safe. Stay happy, peeps!