By Olmin Leyba
The Philippine Azkals will be hard-pressed to fill up huge holes especially in the midfield as a number of Europe-based pros are still uncertain for Phl XI’s upcoming training camp in the Middle East and possibly the AFC Challenge Cup campaign itself in March in Nepal.
Asked about who’s expected in the Dubai and Doha camps, Azkals coach Michael Weiss ruled out the participation of Fil-German Stephan Schröck and Fil-Danish Jerry Lucena and said the inclusion of Fil-Dutch Paul Mulders and Jason de Jong, Fil-Danish Dennis Cagara, Fil-Icelandic Ray Jonsson, and Fil-German Manny Ott are up in the air.
“Schröck is injured, he won’t come. Mulders, most likely he’ll not come. Maybe Ott, maybe de Jong, and maybe Jonsson. Lucena already confirmed he won’t come, he won’t be released by his club, “ Azkals coach Michael Weiss said Wednesday night after the Azkals fought Global FC to a 2-2 draw at the Rizal Memorial pitch.
“Cagara will get a decision from a German club in the Second League; if he gets a professional contract, I don’t see him come to Dubai and most likely our chances are also slim of him playing for the Challenge Cup, but that remains open, I’m not sure about that yet. I also hope I can get (Fil-German Roland) Muller for the goalkeeper, maybe Neil (Etheridge), if he’ll be available,” he added.
With uncertainty of most of the Euro-based players, the midfield becomes a major concern for Weiss.
“(Midfield’s) very crucial. We have a couple of choices but if no one’s available, that’s gonna be a problem, so we’re working on Chris Greatwich coming over for the Malaysia match (on Feb. 29). But if all those players are not available, we have to work with local-based players from the UFL but with limited training time, of course, it’s not easy,” he said.
Weiss looks to their UAE and Qatar training camp beginning Feb. 6 as the best way to catch up as their sessions so far have been “far from ideal.” The Azkals are set to play against Al Arabi on Feb. 13 in Doha and Australian U-23 on Feb. 16 in Dubai, and one more opponent. They are negotiating with Azerbaijan for a Feb. 10 fixture.
“Overall, the situation right now, as far as Challenge Cup preparations are concerned, is far from ideal,” he said, lamenting the limited time he can assemble even the local-based players due to their commitment with their respective UFL clubs.
Wednesday’s tuneup match, he said, reflected how far the Azkals are to ideal form.
“The performance does not give us so much hope, that’s my impression, because you can see that players are somehow distracted. Why? I don’t know but the performance was far from what’s being demanded in a big tournament (coming) in six weeks’ time. So we can only hope when we really get the boys to Dubai together, we can do someting better,” he said.
Weiss said compared to the Azkals’ United’s showing against Korean club Icheon Citizen, the Phl XI’s latest performance versus Global was like “night and day,” although he said it was to be expected given their limited time to train together.
“Especially now with the situation in Phl internally, it’s important to have the team day by day to work on team strategy, defensive tactic, set pieces, general ball possessions, strategies, etc., the whole package that football contains, and you can pratice that most positively in a match.
“So we’ll have three good matches, three days of training (in the Middle East) and hopefully that can get us closer together,” he said.