THE Philippine men’s football team reached unprecedented heights following its historic semifinal finish in the 2010 Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup.
Now, the Azkals aim to reach a whole new level when they see action again in the region’s premier football competition in November.
“We hope to become number one in Southeast Asia by the end of the year,” Azkals team manager Dan Palami declared on Tuesday during the PSA Forum at Shakey’s Malate.
The Azkals have made huge strides since Palami, the 42-year-old businessman from Tacloban, started bankrolling the national team two years ago.
Proof of the Azkals’ success is their current rank both in the world and the region. They are 147th in the world, 22nd in Asia, and third in Southeast Asia -- all of which are all-time highs.
In the Suzuki Cup two years ago, the Azkals made waves after they shocked then-defending champion and host Vietnam, 2-0, before a partisan crowd of close to 40,000 at the My Dinh Stadium. The win was later adjudged as football’s Upset of the Year.
The Vietnam victory, considered as the biggest upset in the 16-year history of the Suzuki Cup, paved the way for more notable results that slowly but surely erased the Philippine team’s tag as an Asian minnow.
“Ngayon di na tayo tinuturing na underdogs ng mga neighbors natin. We have to live up to expectations not only for our fans here in the Philippines, but also in the competitions,” said Palami, whose engineering company is involved in the maintenance, among other projects, of the LRT (Light Rail Transit) 1 and 2 in Manila.
“Nung 2010 nadala natin sila sa sindak eh. Ngayon kailangan panindigan na natin yung ating rankings, and the reputation we’ve built in the community,” Palami added.
With Palami’s resources, the Azkals have lured foreign-bred Filipinos one by one, with the likes of European standouts Stephan Schrock, Neil Etheridge, Roland Muller, Dennis Cagara, Jerry Lucena, Angel and Juani Guirado, Paul Mulders, Patrick Reichelt, and Denis Wolf, along with Demit Omphroy, OJ Porteria, and Matt Uy bolstering the squad.
Omphroy, Marwin Angeles, and Misagh Bahadoran accompanied Palami in the same weekly sports session.
“We’re a lot stronger now, we have more offensive options, we’ve prepared the best way we can and I hope this reaps dividends come November 24 onwards,” Palami said.
Having more options, though, has forced the coaching staff, led by German Michael Weiss, to experiment with different lineups, therefore hampering the team’s cohesion.
But with the Azkals frequently embarking in training camps and friendlies here and abroad, the chemistry issue is slowly being resolved. The six matches the Azkals played in September is usually the number of matches other countries take part in over a whole year.
“The biggest problem we have before is cohesion, and that can be solved by playing often together,” said Palami, who has even bigger dreams for the Azkals when they reign supreme in the region.
“After Southeast Asia, we’ll set our sights on Asia. We’ll just try to make it one at a time,” he said.