30 November 2012
Azkals to stage Challenge Cup qualifier
by Olmin Leyba
BANGKOK – Although the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) has lost its bid to host the final round of the 2014 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup to Maldives, it was offered one of the qualifying meets, giving the Azkals the homefield edge in its bid to make the main draw of the second-tier bootfest in Asia.
PFF president Nonong Araneta said he was told by AFC vice president Ganesh Thapa and executive committee member Winston Lee on the sidelines of this week’s AFC meeting in Kuala Lumpur that the Azkals will host one of the group qualifiers slated March next year.
The composition of the four nations in each group will be determined in a drawing of lots by next month. The top two for each group will advance to the 2014 Challenge Cup, where the Pinoy booters will be seeking to improve on their bronze medal finish in the 2012 edition.
“They said we can host one qualifier,” said PFF president Nonong Araneta who arrived here Friday and gave the Pinoy booters a pep talk before they gunned for a victory against Myanmar later at night and a seat to the AFF Suzuki Cup semifinals.
The PFF had vied for the hosting rights of the 2014 Challenge Cup final round, seeking to take advantage of the new ruling giving the host a free pass to the main draw. The Challenge Cup, in turn, will serve a qualifying event for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup.
“According to them (AFC officials), Maldives made a losing bid several times in the past so the sentiment was award it to them this time. I will write the AFC just to make some clarifications as to how the decision was arrived at,” Araneta said.
The Rizal Memorial Football Stadium, he said, is ready for the hosting, but some other venues like Panaad in Bacolod might be considered.
“Maybe Rizal will be better. It has a better field, and it’s in Manila. I think the other teams would just like to travel to Manila,” Araneta said of the Rizal venue, which has recently undergone minor repairs in preparation for the possible home game should the Azkals reach the semis of the ongoing Suzuki Cup.
Azkals manager Dan Palami, meanwhile, doesn’t mind the long route they have to take in the Challenge Cup.
“It’s unfortunate we couldn’t get the hosting for the final round of the Challenge Cup but it doesn’t matter. If we have to go through the qualifiers, then we’ll prepare to go through that. In fact, it’s also good that we’ll have to go through it because then, we’ll have more games in our schedule,” Palami said.
The Challenge Cup, a tourney for “emerging Asian nations,” provided the venue for one of the Azkals’ successes. Last March, the Azkals landed a podium finish, one of the rare times a Phl football team achieved such a feat.