The Philippines is set to host the ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup group stage for the first time in its history. The 2016 edition will kickoff on November 19, 2016 and will end roughly a month later on December 17, 2016 with the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bulacan designated as the venue for the games.
The past three editions have seen the Philippines knocked out in the semi-finals by Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand respectively. Coincidentally, those three were grouped together in Group A with the Philippines. The top two teams of the group qualify for the semi-finals.
“Perfect. I think it’s a great draw. Three teams that kicked us out in the last three years and we get them in our group, I think it’s perfect to give them a kick back. We can kick two teams out which is perfect”, commented current Philippine National Men’s Football Team coach Thomas Dooley. However, Dooley was concerned about one particular country, Thailand, which he hailed as the “strongest team.” He added that it would be better to face Thailand as the home team in the group stage rather than a semi-final tie.
The 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup will be the second time Dooley will lead the Philippines in the regional tournament. He steered the Azkals to a semi-finals finish where they were eliminated by a powerful Thailand side. He, though, shot down suggestions that coaching in this competition for a second time will be an advantage.
Preparation and little details are important topics for Dooley. Dooley candidly stated his disappointment at the Azkals’ drop in the FIFA World Rankings due to not having two friendlies scheduled last June. He warned that if the Azkals don’t have a very detailed preparation, then the chances of reaching the Suzuki Cup final for the first time will be slim.
“Every game is different and every game you need to prepare in the best way. If they have a player who’s fast, who is technically great, and is a short guy; my player who plays that position needs to understand that, needs to work with him. This is the preparation that we have to do. It doesn’t matter if it’s a World Cup qualifier or a Suzuki Cup game. It’s the preparation about my player to them”, Dooley explained.
As stated earlier, the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bulacan will host the Azkals’ games in the Suzuki Cup. Dooley targeted training sessions at the Philippine Sports Stadium and other particular venues which have the same type of playing surface, namely grass. Upcoming friendly home games will also be set in the said stadium.
“We should play the games in our stadium. Because you talk about home field advantage, you only have home field advantage when you have played in that stadium. If not, then it’s new for you too and you don’t have an advantage if it’s 6,000 people when Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia play in front of 80,000 at home. Six thousand is nothing. That’s why we have to play in the stadium. We have to train on those fields to get a little bit of an advantage”, said Dooley.
In terms of his personnel, Dooley will have to make do without the services of defenders Jerry Lucena, Juani Guirado and Rob Gier. Nevertheless, Dooley wasn’t worried about any possible effect of them leaving the squad.
“What Rob, Juani and Jerry because they’re retired, what they did for football in the Philippines is amazing and it needs to be honored but there comes a time when their time is over, that it’s a little bit too fast for this player, a little bit too quick for those players. We should never forget what they’ve done but they would never have played in the team that we have right now”, Dooley stated and then added that their legacies will be enjoyed by future Filipino football players.
Looking to the future, Dooley mentioned the likes of Amani Aguinaldo, Luke Woodland and Simone Rota as possible replacements for the aforementioned retired trio. Dooley said, “We might have to create some over here. That’s part of the development in football.”
Football has grown in the Philippines six years after the Azkals’ miracle run in the 2010 Suzuki Cup. Unfortunately, silverware has proven elusive to display tangible progress of football in the Philippines. If everything falls into place, then it’s not impossible to see Dooley holding the trophy come December.