By Mike T. LimpagSunday, July 29, 2012
IT’S going to be a safe bet that the minute the Philippines steps into the field in the Suzuki Cup group stage in Thailand, a commentator, or the fans in the stands, will be thinking of the same thing—will the Azkals duplicate their 2010 success?
And can the team handle the pressure to duplicate that? Right now, coach Michael Weiss is helping ease the pressure a bit by telling fans to temper their expectations because the Azkals are no longer a surprise package.
“Of course we are pressured,” Dan Palami said. “We don’t have a choice. We can either let it get under our skin or use it as our motivation.”
And the draw in the Suzuki Cup hasn’t been kind to the Philippines, as getting grouped
with Thailand and Vietnam meant “we will be up against teams we haven’t faced in a while. We will be in an unfamiliar territory.”
Since that breakthrough success, the Azkals have faced and lost to Singapore, 2-0, drew Malaysia twice and Indonesia once. The last time we met Thailand ended in a 4-0 loss in 2007, while Vietnam gets reminded of that 2-0 loss every time the Philippines is mentioned in international news.
The team, of course, will be sending scouts to the Thailand and Vietnam friendlies, but aside from that, Dan said, “We have to focus on our preparation instead of looking at the other teams’ preparations.”
Part of the preparation are a series of camps--in the US and Bahrain. And Dan said the camps, criticized as a traveling road show by veteran writer Ricky Olivares, are needed.
The only way to get better, Dan said, is to have these camps and all these games, which, as of now, are not going to be half of Coach Weiss’s targeted 20-game preparation before the Suzuki Cup. The team will have nine--two in the US, three in the September friendlies, three in the Paulino Alcantara Cup (formerly Long Teng Cup) and another one in Cebu.
All these games and all these camps mean some clubs in the UFL, and perhaps, too, those who want to organize a game like the Clear Dream match, are going to cry foul with all the time these players are missing in action.
And I think this club vs. country argument, which is in its infancy in the Philippines, is one that will be talked about for years and years and it is going to
be one where anyone on both sides of the argument could be right.
With Phil and James Younghusband, and some of the Azkals in top tier European clubs missing out, the camps and games will be a chance to narrow the gap, skills and experience-wise, between the locals and the European Azkals.
For now, the camps serve as a band-aid solution in bridging this gap because Dan said it’s going to be an eight-year wait, pointing to the contrasting fates of the Under 22 and Under 14 teams. Dan said he told the PFF Board of Governors that the Under 22 team, and its recent string of losses, reflected the true state of Philippine football.
“These are the same guys who also lost in the U19. This is the true face of Philippine football and, we have to admit, our Under 22, 21, 19 and 17, napabayaan na talaga,” he said.
The Little Azkals, which had a string of decent finishes, represents the future and the seven-year wait between now and the time the players get good enough to be members of the senior squad could mean the length of time we have to rely on the Neil Etheridges, Stephan Shrocks of the Filipino diaspora.
“That’s why it’s very important that we sustain the program of the Under 14, it has to continue,” Dan said.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 30, 2012.