Philippines football team or the Azkals as they are fondly called are grouped in the Group B of AFC Challenge Cup alongside India, DPR Korea and Tajikistan. FIFA ranked 156, they are just behind India (joint 154 with Bahamas).
In the qualifiers, they were grouped with Palestine, Bangladesh and Mayanmar. But they managed only one win against Bangladesh and qualified as the second best team in the group with 2 draws and a win.
Right now Philippines football is at a transition period but it beggars saying that they are struggling as a footballing nation. Their best memories in the recent past roots from the dream run in Suzuki Cup 2010 where they reached the semi-final.
The Philippines FA has implemented a new strategy to give the football in the nation a big boost. They have started looking for Filippino origin players growing in fotballing nations. The idea is that the players will bring in quality to the team and inspire a new generation of players.
Following this principle, they have quite a few names at hand, many of whom are established/semi-established players in big leagues. There are players like Neil Etheridge and Paul Mulders. Neil is a reserve goalkeeper for English premier League team Fulham and has been cleared to play for the Azkals in AFC Challenge Cup. Paul plays for Dutch Premier league Eredivisie team Ado den Haag and is of Dutch-Filipino origin.
Their captain James Younghusband is of English-Filipino origin while Misagh Bahadoran is of Persian-Filipino origin. In fact the list is quite long and includes Stephan Schrock (German-Filipino, Bundesliga Div 2), Dennis Cagara (Danish-Filipino, Bundesliga Div 2), Roland Mûller (German-Filipino, Bundesliga Div 2) and Angel Guirado (Spanish-Filipino, PhilippinesDiv 1)
This variety of flavour has certainly added to their firepower. But the team hardly got to practice together as some of the foreign based players were not released by the respective clubs. In the name of camp, they would only like to remember the Dubai camp as the one preceding this in Philippines was severely interrupted by the clubs demanding for players.
Azkals lost their first friendly in Dubai against Uzbekistan U23 by 0-3 but came back strong in the second match against Australia which they lost 0-1 after putting up a good fight. They would like to take heart from the match against Malaysia which they drew 1-1 at home.
The Azkals’ manager Dan Palami however is not very hopeful about their chances and had set the semi-final of the AFC Challenge Cup as their target. In an interview earlier he had said,
We want just like what we did in the Suzuki Cup to go to the semifinals at least, if we make it to the finals, that will be a dream come true
So clearly the the Azkals are putting themselves as severe underdogs and are going into the tournament with no serious ambition of winning it.