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Philippines
Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Tough but expected

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The AFF Mitsubishi Electric Cup 2024 draw is done and over with and surprise, surprise the Philippines is in Group B along with familiar foes Vietnam and Indonesia. It is like having the World and Asian Cup qualifiers group stage on an extended loop, but with the addition of Myanmar and Laos. So after the June qualifiers, games against Vietnam and Indonesia before the end of the year are pretty guaranteed.

In Group A, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia and the qualifying round winner will slug it out for the top two spots to advance in the last four.

The Philippines has not won the Mitsubishi Electric Cup (formerly the AFF Suzuki Cup). It was able to advance to the semifinals several times in the past but it was the farthest the team formerly known as the Azkals has gone in the tournament. And just like in the past, The Designated Kit Man is hoping that 2024 is the year that the team will get to the finals.

But first, the national team should think of the qualifiers next month before setting its sights on the AFF tournament. The Philippines sits at the bottom of Group F with just a point after four games. It needs to win its away games against Vietnam and Indonesia and pray that the seven points will be enough for second spot behind powerhouse Iraq, which has already claimed a spot in the knockout phase with two games to spare.

There have been reports of Coach Tom Saintfiet going all over Europe and other places to recruit players to suit for the team next month. Some of these players are really good and could make the June squad formidable and give the Vietnamese and the Indonesians tough matches. But then again, these reports are nothing much but loose talks and rumors, not until they show up with the team next month. Some claims also mentioned that several high-profile players have not answered the invitations extended by Saintfiet and the Philippine Football Federation (PFF), which is nothing new. The PFF has been chasing these players – the PAWS (the pabebe azkals wannabes – for some time now and everytime the FIFA windows get closer, we hear nothing more from them.

It’s probably high time we gave these players a deadline so that the PFF can move on and these players can also concentrate on their mother clubs, their careers, livelihood and appease their agents. Even the fans can train their attention and support to those who really deserve their adulation and prayers. If they don’t want to play for the flag and country, just let them be, hanap na lang ng iba.

Heard also that recruitment is not only on the senior level. The PFF is also recruiting Filipinos playing abroad to beef up its Under-23 and youth teams, which is what is really needed. These young players will eventually graduate to the senior squad and have gained some experience playing for the country before suiting up for the bigger games and competitions.

The process, however, works both ways. If there are players who want to suit for the country when it is convenient to say so, I believe there are more out there who really want to represent the country if given the opportunity to do so. We can always find players, who would want to play for the Philippines because they want to and not because it’s their last option. If the PFF extends an invitation to these players, it should see to it until it’s done. Bottomline, ‘wag din sana paasa.

On an equally serious note, the Mitsubishi Electric Cup will be Tom Saintfiet’s real test as the national coach. The tournament will give us a clear picture where the national team stands. Despite the relatively short time that he has been handling the team, the regional competition will be a good yardstick on what he has done for the team and a glimpse of its future. Praying mighty hard that the team will do well come December.

The Philippines will open its campaign in the Mitsubishi Electric Cup 2024 on December 7 against Indonesia.

Long-time Azkals captain Neil Etheridge is reportedly moving to either Thailand or Malaysia soon. Etheridge, who played for EFL Championship side Birmingham City, is being linked to possible transfer to Buriram United of Thailand and Johor Darul Ta’zim in the Malaysia Super League. A social media post by Birmingham City added fuel to these rumors when it confirmed that Etheridge will not be coming back to the club after this season. Hoping the best of luck for Etheridge as he makes a very important decision for his career that will also impact his stint in the national team.

On the flip side, Etheridge will be just a short plane ride away whenever he gets the call to join the national camp. Whether from Thailand or Malaysia, the move will be good for Etheridge.

Stay safe. Stay happy peeps!

For comments or questions, you can reach The Designated Kit Man at erel_cabatbat@yahoo.com or follow his account at Twitter: @erelcabatbat

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