BY BONG PEDRALVEZ
AT the rate the national team preparations are going, German coach Michael Weiss cautioned local fans not to expect any miracles when the Azkals compete in the AFC Challenge Cup in Katmandhu, Nepal in March.
"As far as the Challenge Cup preparations are concerned, they are far from ideal," Weiss said after the nationals were held to a 2-2 draw by FC Global in a recent tune-up match at the Rizal Memorial Football field.
"The performance does not give us so much hope. Every single individual did not perform as far as they were expected given the demands of a big tournament in six weeks’ time," he noted. "My impression as you can see is that they are distracted. Why, I don’t know."
Considered the tougher of the two groups in the Nepal tourney, the Filipinos are bracketed in Group B with India, Tajikistan and North Korea, the 2006, 2008 and 2010 AFC Challenge Cup titlists, respectively.
Comparing the performance of the Filipino booters the previous weekend when they battled the visiting Icheon City squad of South Korea to a 1-all draw before losing 2-4 in a penalty shootout, Weiss said his charges’ showing in the tune-up game was "like day and night."
But he quickly added he would not consider the performance "traumatic," citing the two side’s practices were limited to once a week due to the players’ commitments with their respective UFL clubs.
Weiss said the Azkals’ coming training camp Dubai would be crucial to their build-up for the AFC Challenge Cup.
"Especially now with the situation in the Philippines (with the UFL), it is important to have the team day by day, to work on team strategy, set pieces, we have to work on ball possession, the whole football package," he said, adding he’s hopeful the UFL players would be released for the camp.
The German mentor said he’s looking forward to re-establishing team chemistry among the Azkals "and possibly get us closer together."
At least 20 to 22 players were listed and their visas secured for the Middle East training stint, but Weiss said he will only know who exactly will be available "once we are there."
The Azkals are expected to have three tune-up games during the two-week camp, namely against the Azerbaijan national team coached by former German national team mainstay Berti Vogts, top Qatari club Al-Ahrabi and the Australian Under-23 Olympic team.
Despite the numerous handicaps, Weiss said he and his wards would give the AFC Challenge Cup their best shot but admitted that "with the limited training it won’t be easy."