Good news to all Philippine Azkals fans! Philippine Football Federation’s request to move the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup tournament from March to the third week of May has been approved by the Asian Football Confederation.
With this turn of event, Philippines will have a chance to field their strongest line-up possible because Europe-based players like Neil Etheridge, Roland Muller, Stephan Schrock, Dennis Cagara and Jerry Lucena will be available for selection with the European football season already done a few weeks before the tournament starts.
A strong field of players in the 2014 Challenge Cup will give the Philippine Azkals a big chance of winning the tournament in Maldives, thus qualifying for the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia.
“We cited the fact that the Challenge Cup is an Asian Cup qualifier, which is also held on Fifa international match dates,” said Araneta. “We were hoping for parity and I think our request made sense to them (AFC).”
Dan Palami, Azkals manager, is happy with the new schedule but stressed that there is still plenty of work ahead for the team, which will vie for the title against Kyrgyzstan, Palestine, Myanmar, Laos, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and host Maldives.
“It’s a very welcome development for us because we intend to field our strongest team ever in the Maldives Challenge Cup and the dates being moved have actually allowed us to do that,” said Palami, who has bankrolled the team since 2010.
“It is up to (team management) and the PFF to ensure that we bring for the Philippines the best players, the best staff and the best coach to lead us toward our Asian Cup dream.”
While the development has come with added pressure, Palami is confident the team will be up to the challenge.
“There is added pressure because we find ourselves in a situation where the chance to be in the Asian Cup is within grasp, but I’m sure, our team will respond well to the pressure.
The Philippines, powered by its Europe-based players and new Filipino-Spanish striker Javier Patino, qualified as the best team in Group E after beating Cambodia and Turkmenistan at Rizal Memorial Stadium last March.