The Philippines is upbeat that it will finally end its long wait for a first AFF Suzuki Cup title this year.
After failing to survive the group stage when the Philippines hosted the 2016 tournament, the Azkals are confident that their solid preparation and the entry of new coach Sven Goran Eriksson will set them up for glory in the 2018 Suzuki Cup.
The Azkals are in Group B with reigning champion Thailand, three-time winner Singapore, 2016 finalist Indonesia, and Timor Leste.
The Filipinos kick off their campaign at home against Singapore at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City.
“We respect everyone in the group, but we can’t fear them,” said Azkals co-skipper Stephan Schrock during the Manila stop of the AFF Suzuki Cup trophy tour at World Trade Center in Pasay City last October 27.
“We are confident that with our preparation and the new coach that we’ll have a great chance of winning the Suzuki Cup this year.”
The hiring of Eriksson as the Azkals’ new coach was also made official during the Trophy Tour program by Philippines team manager Dan Palami.
The Swede coached England in the 2006 World Cup, and has also handled the national teams of Mexico and Ivory Coast.
Suzuki Philippines vice-president Shizo Hoshikura wished the Azkals luck as they contend for the title in the competition, where they have reached the semifinals three times in the last four years.
The Azkals’ 2-0 victory of then defending champion Vietnam in the 2010 tournament in Hanoi remains as one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament. But they were unable to get out of their group in 2016, as Indonesia and Thailand qualified and went on to play in the finals.
With the new format that will allow the Azkals to play several home matches in the group stage in Bacolod, Azkals midfielder Kevin Ingreso believes they have a great opportunity to make the Philippines proud.
“We can assure everyone that we will make everyone proud and play our best game every match,” said Ingreso. “We know that the Suzuki Cup is the biggest tournament in Southeast Asia. We will do everything we can to win the title for the Philippines.”
Midfielder Manny Ott, who is making his third Suzuki Cup appearance for the Azkals, said the tournament forms a huge part of their preparation for the AFC Asian Cup in January.
“We qualified for the Asian Cup for the first time and we want to use the tournament as part of our preparations, but obviously we also want to win it,” said Ott.