THERE have been plenty of positive changes since the Philippine men’s football team took part in the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup two years ago. The Azkals have become stronger, have had several new faces, and have become household names since that historic semifinal finish.
But for Mariano “Nonong” Araneta, one thing that has greatly changed for the national team ahead of its return to Southeast Asia’s premier football tournament later this month, is its mentality.
“Now we’re going to the Suzuki Cup with the winning mind. We want to win,” the Philippine Football Federation president said on Wednesday night during the Azkals’ sendoff for the tournament at the Richmonde Hotel in Eastwood City.
“Not like before, we just wanted to participate. Now, we have an equal chance against them.”
Boosted by a string of impressive results since 2010, the Azkals have now reached their all-time best Fifa ranking of No. 143. Although he believes the ranking will not have much effect on the game itself, Mariano still thinks it gives the Azkals a psychological boost heading into the group stage.
“It (rank) doesn’t have any bearing come game time … but the winning attitude is there. They really want to prove something,” he said.
For coach Michael Weiss, the winning attitude is not the only factor needed for the Azkals to emerge victorious.
“We can go very far, but we need a little bit of luck and we need two or three pillars in the team, like (Jerry) Lucena and Neil (Etheridge). All these things have to come together in order for us to go far.”
Can the Azkals go as far as duplicating their semifinal finish in 2010?
“I’m very positive that we can even go further, but we should have the attitude of winning. Of course I don’t want to go there and lose matches,” the German mentor said.