The Philippine Azkals earned the luck of the draw in the AFF Suzuki Cup to somehow lessen the impact of the bad news of Fil-German midfielder Stephan Schrock and Fil-Danish left back Dennis Cagara leaving the team.
The Azkals have drawn arch-rival Vietnam, Indonesia and the runner-up of the qualifying round in group A during the official draw that was held at Sheraton Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam last Tuesday. Group B looks to be the tougher bracket on paper with the winners of eight of the last nine editions including defending champion Singapore and Thailand, which won four and three titles, respectively during that span, 2010 champion Malaysia and the winner of the qualifying round.
Despite having drawn the seemingly lighter group, Azkals coach Thomas Dooley welcomed it but warned the Azkals not to be overconfident.
“On the first look, it seems our group might be easier than group B, but this doesn’t mean it would be an easy go for us to win and continue to the next stage,” said Dooley, the former captain of the 1998 US World Cup team.
The 52-year old coach, who has earned the ire of some of the Fil-foreign players due to the direction that he wanted for the national team, is not leaving anything to chance.
“Our team needs to be 100 percent prepared and we have to be focused and concentrated on each game to get our job done,” Dooley added. “We need to work hard, same as our preparation for the Challenge Cup 2014.”
And they will have to prepare for this major tournament without their two veteran players – Schrock and Cagara – who have voiced their displeasure on how they were treated by the American coach. Dooley, however, refused to be drawn to the controversy opting to clear things up in an official press conference when he gets back from Vietnam.
The new Azkals coach, who piloted the team to a record runner-up finish in the AFC Challenge Cup last May with just little time, wants the team to be better than ever.
“On the preparation for the Suzuki Cup 2014, we even need to be better and a little bit more accurate and learn how to think and move faster to make the whole team ready for this challenge,” Dooley said.
His initial target is to make it to the top two of their group and take it from there.
“Our focus is to get out of this group in the first or second place,” Dooley said.
It’s easier said than done. But with much longer preparation, the Azkals are hoping to improve on their semifinal finish in the last two editions with or without Schrock and Cagara.