Amidst the difficult situation in the country due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippine Azkals finally have a clear program to prepare for the upcoming joint 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers in Suzhou, China, next month.
“We have communicated with the Qatar Football Association to host our team for a training camp in Qatar,” divulged Philippine Football Federation President Nonong Araneta in a virtual press conference, Wednesday afternoon
“It’s so hard to train here in the Philippines so we have decided to do the training camp in Qatar and we are lucky that there are other teams that will be there also as well so that we can have friendly matches. I think one is Palestine and the other is Syria before we go to China.”
Qatar has also played host to the Azkals’ camp during its prep for the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup and 2018 AFC Asian Cup.
Long-time Azkals team manager Dan Palami shared that a total of 26 players shall be called up to participate in the Qatar camp, which shall commence on May 18-31.
From this pool, 23 players shall be selected by the coaching staff led by Scott Cooper to participate in the China matches.
“I think we have to first realize that this national team hasn’t played for nearly 19 months based on the pandemic,” lamented Cooper. “We’ve put ourselves in a position to challenge. We’re joint second in the group. What’s sad is that of the eight games, we’ll have only played two in the Philippines and of the five games, we’ll have played China, only one of them will have taken place in the Philippines too.
“But as far as the squad selection goes, it’s still ongoing right now. We’re still looking at the relevance of players, the current form, the standard of play they’re at, where they’re at in their careers, down to their injury record and what they’re doing currently.”
The last fixture that the Azkals played in the qualifiers was a 0-1 away defeat at the hands of Syria in Dubai. The Philippines and China both have 7 points each although the former sits at third place due to an inferior goal difference while the latter has an extra game in hand.
Cooper’s men are scheduled to face Guam on June 3, China on June 9, and Maldives on June 15. All matches are to take place at the Suzhou Olympic Sports Centre in Suzhou, China.
“Rest assured we are doing our best to put up a competitive team,” said Araneta.
“It’s a work in progress but I think we’ve done enough so far. We’re doing our best to prepare the team with the coaching staff under coach Scott Cooper. I’m confident that we’ll have a good team in China.”