THE Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup is still seven months away, but the Philippine men’s football team is leaving no stone unturned in its preparations as the national side is well aware of the importance of the prestigious continental competition.
That’s why the Azkals kick off their buildup this early, starting with the Peace Cup set October 11 to 15 at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City.
With an almost complete roster, the Azkals are the odds-on favorites to rule the tournament, which they also won last year that turned out to be the country’s first international title in almost a century.
This edition marks the return of overseas-based standouts Stephan Schrock, Neil Etheridge, and Jerry Lucena to the fold for the first time since the Challenge Cup Qualifiers last March at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
“This is step towards the ultimate goal, which is the Challenge Cup,” Azkals manager Dan Palami said on Monday during the launch of the Azkals’ new jersey designed by Puma. “Hopefully we get off to a good start and then we proceed to the other preparations for the Challenge Cup.”
The Challenge Cup, set in Maldives next May, stakes a single ticket to the grander AFC Asian Cup in 2015.
The 141st-ranked Azkals, though, are certainly not looking past the Peace Cup, where they will face lower-ranked squads in Pakistan and Chinese Taipei.
The Filipino booters, also led by locals Chieffy Caligdong and James and Phil Younghusband, open their campaign against Chinese Taipei on Friday at 7 p.m., before taking on Pakistan on Tuesday.