Dooley eyes AFF Suzuki Cup crown for Azkals next

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Having guided the Philippine Azkals to a runner-up finish in the AFC Challenge Cup, American coach Thomas Dooley is raising the stakes by targeting the championship of the Suzuki Cup, the Southeast Asian men’s football competition, which kicks off in November.

“After the Azkals finished runners-up twice (in the Suzuki Cup), my aim is not just reach the finals but actually win the championship,” said Dooley yesterday, June 3, at a press conference a day after the national team arrived from the Maldives.

“We want to win every game. I would rather that we play bad but win rather than play beautifully yet lose,” added the former US team captain and two-time World Cup veteran, who steered the Filipinos to their first-ever finals appearance in the Challenge Cup.

Up against a scrappy and tenacious Palestinian squad, the Azkals suffered a heartbreaking 0-1 loss in the championship match, paving the way for the Palestinians to advance to next year’s Asian Cup in Australia.

National team manager Dan Palami was quick to support Dooley’s ambition, saying ,”winning the Suzuki Cup is our ultimate goal this year.”

Dooley said that he intends to return to the US for a two-week vacation before coming back to Manila to resume training with the Filipino booters for their forthcoming competitions, including their defense of the Philippine Peace Cup trophy.

Philippine Football Federation general secretary Atty. Edwin Gastanes, who was also at the same press briefing, disclosed that the Philippine Peace Cup would be held from Sept. 1 to 9 at the newly-renovated Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.

PFF president Mariano Araneta Jr., who also joined the press conference, said they intend to invite strong squads to the event as part of the Azkals’ Suzuki Cup build-up, and among those being initially eyed are Vietnam, Malaysia and Chinese-Taipei.

“If Palestine is available we might also invite the team to participate in the Peace Cup,” Araneta said.

With Palami bankrolling their training in 2010, the Azkals stunned Southeast Asia’s soccer powerhouses by winding up surprise semifinalists in the Suzuki Cup for the first time, sparking a national soccer revival.

They duplicated the feat two years later under German coach Michael Weiss.

Gastanes said that the draw for the Suzuki Cup group stage will be on August 5 in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi.

Palami disclosed that they would map out the national team’s training schedule for the competition once Dooley returns from vacation.

“We will follow the same formula that has been successful with us over the years: training camps plus friendly matches against strong opposition,” he said.

Given the strong performance of Dooley and the Nationals in the Maldives, Araneta said he had no second thoughts on extending the one-year contract of the American coach “or else Filipino fans might hang me.”

Both Gastanes and Araneta said that the Azkals are in for a busy year in 2015 with the qualifiers for the World Cup and Asian Cup, which will use a revised format, scheduled.

By : Manolo Pedralvez, Rappler.com

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