by Olmin Leyba
BOCAUE, Philippines – The Philippine Azkals have come full circle in the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup.
From an outsider pre-2010, they forced themselves into the company of the regions elite. From a certified contender carrying high expectations six years later, they now found themselves plummeting back to the doghouse after a bungled campaign on home soil.
“We won’t shy away from it, it’s a disaster,” said Fil-German Stephan Schrock.
The Filipinos bombed out of the Last-4 picture after yielding a 0-1 heartbreaker to a Thailand side that, with an early semis qualification on hand, sat out top guns like Teerasil Dangda, Chanatip Songkram and Kawin Thamsatchanan.
It didn’t help any that the Azkals settled for back-to-back draws to start their bid, failing to get the maximum points in the opener against 10-man Singapore and rallying back to tie Indonesia.
“We’re really disappointed at the moment. But there’s always tomorrow and there’s always positive things to take away. We’ll analyze it and come back stronger,” Schrock said after his maiden Suzuki Cup stint got its worst possible ending.
The stars didn’t align to give the Azkals their shining moment in the very first Suzuki Cup held on Phl soil.
Regulars Patrick Reichelt and Simone Rota suffered season-ending injuries. Then so close to the tournament start, top striker Javier Patino and dependable centerback Daisuke Sato were deemed unavailable due to club commitments.
The team missed their steady presence in front, midfield and back.
Additionally, there were reportedly some issues needed to be resolved weeks before the tournament. Sources said training was stalled as they threshed out matters concerning the players’ allowances.
The expected crowd hardly came to the games to push the Azkals harder in the so-called Group of Death, as well.
Now it’s time to lick their wounds and do some serious soul-searching.
“The progression of football has been there and not qualifying for the semis, it feels disappointing because we have high expectations,” said skipper Phil Younghusband, who was switched from striker to holding mid in a deployment that some felt didn’t work out.
“We had such good players and we know the quality. So the circumstances of Philippine football at the moment, it’s not always easy,” he added.
Up next for the Azkals will be the third round of the qualifiers for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.
“We should do the right thing we need to do for the Asian Cup. We need to have good preparation, maybe four weeks of constant training,” said coach Thomas Dooley.