Sunday, 27 March 2011

Up next: Azkals ‘Dream Team’

Cedelf P Tupas

RANGOON—Promising as it is now, the Philippine football team is only bound to get stronger.

With many key players still yet to strut their wares for the squad, the talk of an Azkals “Dream Team” for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers gathered steam here shortly after they got the job done in the AFC Challenge Cup group qualifying tournament.

“We hope to assemble the Dream Team for the World Cup qualifiers,” said team manager Dan Palami, the man credited for the Azkals’ rise from obscurity. “We just played 60 percent of our potential here. We can build an even better team.”

The Azkals won one match—a 3-0 drubbing of Bangladesh—after drawing with Myanmar and Palestine to secure qualification to the next phase in the company of India, Turkmenistan and Maldives, which have earlier booked their places.

Together with regulars in the squad like Neil Etheridge, Aly Borromeo, Anton del Rosario, Chieffy Caligdong, Ray Jonsson, Rob Gier, Simon Greatwich and Phil and James Younghusband, and newcomers Jerry Lucena and Angel Aldeguer Guirado, the “Dream Team” will include the Filipino-German rightback Stephan Schrock and Filipino-Danish leftback Dennis Cagara.

The first round of qualifying is scheduled in June and July, but the Azkals’ opponents will be known March 30 when the draw is held in the AFC office in Kuala Lumpur.

Palami said the team will be given a one-month break to attend to several commitments.

During their break, the Azkals will also undertake relief operations in Palami’s hometown, Tacloban City, which was hit by heavy rains that caused floods recently.

“The team has been very fortunate to have survived several natural calamities,” said Palami, whose squad was training in Japan when the strong earthquake hit the country and was also in Myanmar when another tremor shook the Southeast Asian country.

“This is our way of giving back for all the blessings we have received. We are thankful that despite all that’s happened, we have been given the chance to make history. I’m encouraging the fans to participate and contribute.”

The Azkals will also use the break to scout for new players in Europe and the United States as well as standouts for the Under-23 squad for the Southeast Asian Games.

Palami said Borromeo, Del Rosario and Chris Greatwich will be holding tryouts in the United States next month, while Gier will be helping out in looking for players in Europe.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Football Federation is working on getting the hosting rights to one of the group qualifying tournaments for the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup.

Philippine Olympic Committee chair Monico Puentevella, who is also part of the PFF advisory council, said he has been assured of support by key AFC officials for the country to host the tournament, which could either be held in Manila or Bacolod in 2013.

“With all due respect to Myanmar, if they can do it, I think we can also do it,” said Puentevella, who watched the Philippines’ first two matches here.

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