Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Azkals gear up for Middle East tour

By Alfonso Ramirez

The Philippine national men’s football team is running double time to get into shape as they only have roughly a month to blend together as a team before they face expected rough sailing at the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup in Kathmandu in March.

“Since the Suzuki Cup, there has been a lot of buzz around Philippine football. There’s more pressure and we’re expected to win, but there’s still a long way to go,” said Azkals star striker Phil Younghusband in an interview published by Dubai-based newspaper, Gulf News.

The Philippines is bracketed with Asian football powerhouse and World Cup qualifier North Korea, India, and Tajikistan.

“We’re trying to educate people about the realities of our situation. Football isn’t as developed in the Philippines as it is elsewhere.

“We need more preparation, but a lot of our players fly in from Europe at the last minute and it’s difficult to gel,” he added.

The Azkals are leaving Tuesday night via an Emirates flight that will take them straight to Dubai for their 10-day Middle East tour.

Organizers of the tour said the Philippine Football Federation decided to take the national team away from the many distractions in Manila to enable Weiss and the coaching staff to whip the stray dogs into fine thoroughbreds.

The Azkals will be playing three friendly matches – one in Doha, against Qatar Star League first division club Al Ahli, and two matches in Dubai against the Under-23 team of Uzbekistan on February 11 and the Qantas Australia under-23 team on February 16.

The Dubai matches will be played at the Al Maktoum Stadium which is located in the Oud Metha area where Filipino expatriates usually congregate.

“The biggest test the Filipino players will face will be against the side from Down Under,” said Chris Bayliss of MediaPro Middle East, which handles the marketing and promotion of the Azkals tour.

“[The Australians] are preparing for the upcoming AFC Asian Qualifiers for London 2012 and will be tough opposition,” he added.

Aside from Younghusband, 17 other national team candidates – including skipper Chieffy Caligdong who was earlier ruled out due to injury — will be joining the camp.

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