THE Philippine men’s football team braces for battle against the strongest field of opponents ever in its Peace Cup title defense next month.
After ruling the first two editions of the annual four-nation local competition, the Azkals face a tougher test in Palestine, Myanmar, and Chinese Taipei starting September 3 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
For the first time, the Filipino booters are coming in as only the second-ranked squad in what is considered a major preparation for the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup in November.
Palestine denied the Filipino booters the last spot in the prestigious Asian Football Confederation - Asian Cup next year with a heartbreaking 1-0 win in the AFC Challenge Cup Finals last May.
The victory catapulted the Palestinians in the Fifa rankings from 165th to 94th. The war-torn nation has continued its rise, having placed 88th this month — way ahead of the 128th-ranked Azkals.
The Taiwanese, despite being ranked way below the Azkals, defeated the Filipinos in last year’s staging, while Myanmar is seeking vengeance following two straight losses to the Philippines..
The Burmese footballers may be ranked 160th, 32 spots below the Azkals, but Philippines coach Thomas Dooley thinks their position belies their true worth.
“Myanmar is maybe a better, stronger team (than Taipei),” the German-American mentor said on Tuesday in the Philippine Sportswriters Association Forum. “Palestine is a little more difficult.”
But Dooley is relishing the challenge.
“I always hope that teams play with their best players because I want some challenge,” he said. “But I’m not being overconfident.”
“I want to see what we’re doing wrong and what we have to improve on,” he added as the Azkals, the top-ranked Southeast Asian squad.