By FRANCIS SANTIAGO
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines has never won a medal of any color in the men’s football event of the Southeast Asian Games since its debut in the biennial meet in 1977.
Seeking to end the drought, Azkals team manager Dan Palami has vowed to form the strongest football squad ever.
“I think we can safely say we will be forming the strongest team for the Southeast Asian Games,” said Palami, who will also stand as team manager of the national team to the SEA Games set in Indonesia this November.
He said chances are strong to contend for a medal considering that six players from the Philippine Azkals are eligible to play in the under-23 tournament.
The six players are goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, 21, reliever Christopher Camcam, 16, defender David Basa, 21, striker Yannick Tuason, 21, who are both members of the University of Santo Tomas football team, and Fil-German Patrick Hinrichsen, 20, and Fil-Dutch Jason de Jong, 21.
“They don’t need to try out for the team. I think with their level of play, they should be automatically included in the team,” Palami said.
"I hope we can win the medal under my leadership. That's all our aim," Philippine Football Federation president Mariano Araneta, a former member of the national team from 1975 to '80s, said.
Malaysia is the defending SEA Games champion, with Vietnam and Singapore as the second and third place finishers.
Azkals head coach Hans Michael Weiss will mentor the squad, which he hopes to be boosted with top-calibre players from Europe. The German coach, together with Rob Gier will soon fly to Germany to scout for players.
“So far, there are at least 30 players who expressed their desire to join the Sea Games team,” Palami said.
Azkals team captain Aly Borromeo and Anto Del Rosario will conduct tryouts for the under-23 event on April 9-10 in Daly City, California.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Azkals opponent for the Round 1 of the qualifying tournament for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil will be known this afternoon as the draw will be held in Kuala Lumpur.