Philippine Azkals coach Michael Weiss is adamant that he will focus on the players he has at his disposal and not the ones who are unavailable for the squad’s Bahrain camp, which is the national team’s last before it competes in the 2026 FIFA World Cup and 2027 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers next month.
The Azkals will face Kyrgyzstan in an unofficial friendly on October 15 and Bahrain in an official friendly two days later. Twenty-five players have been called up, including the likes of goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, defender Jefferson Tabinas, midfielder Sandro Reyes, and forward Bienvenido Marañon.
“I’m also grateful that 25 people can travel, including three goalkeepers,” said Weiss. “I want to focus on the people who are there. I’m still only in my third camp and I still need to get a clear picture of who’s available, who might be an interesting player for the future.
“While I know the main squad already, we’re still in a testing period. We have Tabinas and (Joshua) Grommen coming in who I haven’t seen so far. So I have high hopes for them. We have many pullouts, unfortunately, due to injuries or unavailability, but that’s how it is. I will not lament on that. I will work with what I have in hand, together with (Stephan) Schrocky and the staff.”
Forming a squad to compete in every international window is always a tough task. Recent windows have seen some last-minute absences from players who were announced to be part of the team. This time around, the likes of Sebastian Rasmussen and Christian Rontini — the two goalscorers in the Azkals’ 2-1 win over Afghanistan last month — begged off from international duty.
Despite their absences, Weiss does not hold it against them, as well as others who are unavailable. He is sticking to his belief that he and his staff should work with who is available and create a program that is able to withstand this type of problem.
“Rontini has an injury, and Rasmussen also because of club negotiations about a new contract or leaving the club. They asked for permission to pull out of this camp. (Patrick) Strauss is also not there because he said he wants to recover from a long nagging injury and the travels to Southeast Asia and then back to Europe with the jetlag,” he said.
“I want everyone also to be understanding that this is not an easy thing. I don’t wanna, how can I say, protect the players, but there are always reasons why one doesn’t show up. It’s not a negative thing. It’s something we have to deal with, and we have other players who have chances to show themselves. Again, I mentioned some names before — Grommen, Tabinas, Pocholo Bugas. We have some local guys from Kaya who are doing well in the AFC Champions League. It’s my job, you know, to create a larger roster to be prepared for any situation,” he continued.
“Gerrit Holtmann will not come this time also for reasons (that include) an injury that has taken him out for a while and he’s not yet fit. He hasn’t recovered 100 percent. He will not be available this time.”
This international window is Weiss’ third ever since he was reappointed as the Azkals’ coach earlier this year. The Azkals have won against Nepal and Afghanistan on home soil as well as lost and drawn with Chinese Taipei in their last four matches with the German in charge.
The acid test, though, will come next month. The Azkals are set to face Vietnam at home and one of Indonesia or Brunei away to kickstart their campaign to join the next World Cup and Asian Cup.
Navigating those two games will be a tall order. However, Weiss has seen some improvements since he returned to the post, and he hopes that this Bahrain camp will further hasten that progress.
“Most importantly is that the proactive style is moving forward. We created a lot of chances. We got into good pressing situations. We had good communication within the group already but, of course, looking forward to the Vietnam and Indonesia matches,” he said.
“It needs to be more and more fine-tuned, and we have to work on details in the camp, where we have enough time now since we’re all together, and I’m looking forward to it.”