DESPITE the lack of relatively better-quality opponents, the Philippine Football Federation still expects tough competition for the national team when it defends its Peace Cup title from October 11 to 15 at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City.
After higher-ranked African squads Uganda (81st in the world) and Rwanda (131st) declined the PFF invitation due to varying reasons, the football body was forced to tap Pakistan and make do with a three-team cast along with the Azkals and Chinese Taipei.
The 141st-ranked Azkals are ranked 29 places higher than the Pakistanis and 34 places higher than Taiwanese, who finished as runners-up in the first edition of the meet last year.
“We welcome both Chinese Taipei and Pakistan and we look forward to competitive matches with them,” PFF general secretary Edwin Gastanes said.
With the fixtures of the international tournament falling on Fifa match dates, the Azkals are expected to have a full-strength squad with Europe-based booters Stephan Schrock, Neil Etheridge, Jerry Lucena, Rob Gier, and Thailand-based Patrick Reichelt in the fold.
The overseas-based players will link up with their locally-based counterparts, led by skipper Chieffy Caligdong and James and Phil Younghusband.
The Philippines faces Chinese Taipei first on Friday at 7 p.m., before taking on Pakistan on October 15. The Chinese Taipei-Pakistan match is sandwiched on October 13.
Apart from being one of the highlights of the City of Smiles’ Masskara Festival celebration, the anticipated event is a way to promote peace in the country, according to the PFF.
“The Peace Cup is football’s contribution to help highlight every Filipino’s desire for peace, especially in Mindanao conflict areas. Football values of fair play and respect are aligned with the ongoing peace process,” Gastanes said.