The Philippine Azkals set out for the AFC Challenge Cup firing off today, upbeat of their chances against the best in the region for a crack at the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Sydney against the continent’s powerhouse teams.
“After our bronze medal in the last Challenge Cup and semifinal stints in the AFF Suzuki Cup, we felt we should be taking it to the next level,” said team manager Dan Palami.
And so the Azkals embraced a dream that they could already reign in the tournament among “emerging nations” and get a pass to Asia’s version of the Fifa World Cup.
“Yes, you have a dream and you have to believe it,” said coach Thomas Dooley, the World Cup veteran and US skipper who’s been tasked to lead the Azkals in their “Sydney 2015 Project.”
“If you like to win but you think you can’t, it’s almost certain that you won’t,” the German-born American stressed.
Phl XI won’t have Phil Younghusband and Rob Gier against the Afghans as they have to sit it out as penalty for their cautions in the Challenge Cup qualifiers in Manila last year. Younghusband was sent off in the Azkals 1-0 win over Turkmenistan after getting two yellow cards while Gier has cautions in the same game and in their 8-0 win over Cambodia earlier.
But Dooley is unfazed.
“It’s a great chance for the next in line to show they can play.
Players get injured before a tournament so I am not thinking about the negatives. I’m looking at players who can come in and do a job,” he said.
The hard work and sacrifices required by this mission aren’t lost on the players.
“Every team will have the same dream as us and they will all have left no stone unturned in their preparation,” said captain Rob Gier.
“However, I have always been amazed by this team and the group of people that are part of it and in the past we have all achieved amazing things together. I know what this team is capable of.”
But before the Azkals can drool about playing against holder Japan, former champ Iraq, and Gulf power Jordan in the Asian Cup Down Under, the Azkals have a more immediate business to take care of \in this South Asian nation known for its breathtaking beaches.