WHILE ruing the missed chance of being in a more favorable group, the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) believes the national menâ€™s team is capable of pulling off surprises in the 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifiers starting this June.
The Azkals have been drawn in an unpredictable Group H with Uzbekistan, Bahrain, North Korea, and Yemen.
â€śI think we couldâ€™ve gotten a better draw,â€ť PFF president Nonong Araneta said on Wednesday night during intermission of the Global FC-Yadanarbon Asian Football Confederation Cup match at the Philippine Stadium.
Araneta feels the Filipino booters wouldâ€™ve had an easier traveling experience if they were bracketed in Group F composed of fellow Southeast Asian nations Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia, another neighbor in Chinese Tapei, along with Middle East power Iraq.
â€śAng sa akin lang 'yung distance nung game eh,â€ť the PFF chief said, noting the Azkals will have two away matches in a span of just six days, on October 8 in Pyongyang then five days later in Bahrain.
â€śYun ang medyo mabigat para sa team,â€ť Araneta continued. â€śWeâ€™re looking for the shortest possible connecting flight para at least they can be in Bahrain right away.â€ť
There are no direct flights to Bahrain and to Uzbekistan, the top-ranked nation in the group at 73rd, which, Araneta said, is 13 hours away from the Philippines via plane.
Playing in war-torn Yemen is also improbable, according to Araneta, who bared the away match could be played in a neutral ground in Bahrain.
The Azkals start their campaign with a home match against Bahrain on June 11 tentatively at the Philippine Stadium, with all their matches played in Fifa match days, ending in March next year.
â€śPero wala tayo magawa,â€ť Araneta said. â€śThatâ€™s water under the bridge. We just have to do our own preparation.â€ť
â€śWe just have to make sure all the players are available,â€ť the former national team standout added as the Azkals are expecting new faces to join the squad in half-Australian midfielder Iain Ramsay, half-Austrian defender Stephen Palla, and half-British teenager Luke Woodland, as well as the return of star Stephan Schrock.
â€śIf all our players are available, then we have a good chance of making some upsets there,â€ť Araneta said, adding the PFF is trying to arrange a friendly possibly against Vietnam next month.