WHILE ruing the missed chance of being in a more favorable group, the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) believes the national men’s team is capable of pulling off surprises in the 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifiers starting this June.
The Azkals have been drawn in an unpredictable Group H with Uzbekistan, Bahrain, North Korea, and Yemen.
“I think we could’ve gotten a better draw,” PFF president Nonong Araneta said on Wednesday night during intermission of the Global FC-Yadanarbon Asian Football Confederation Cup match at the Philippine Stadium.
Araneta feels the Filipino booters would’ve had an easier traveling experience if they were bracketed in Group F composed of fellow Southeast Asian nations Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia, another neighbor in Chinese Tapei, along with Middle East power Iraq.
“Ang sa akin lang 'yung distance nung game eh,” the PFF chief said, noting the Azkals will have two away matches in a span of just six days, on October 8 in Pyongyang then five days later in Bahrain.
“Yun ang medyo mabigat para sa team,” Araneta continued. “We’re looking for the shortest possible connecting flight para at least they can be in Bahrain right away.”
There are no direct flights to Bahrain and to Uzbekistan, the top-ranked nation in the group at 73rd, which, Araneta said, is 13 hours away from the Philippines via plane.
Playing in war-torn Yemen is also improbable, according to Araneta, who bared the away match could be played in a neutral ground in Bahrain.
The Azkals start their campaign with a home match against Bahrain on June 11 tentatively at the Philippine Stadium, with all their matches played in Fifa match days, ending in March next year.
“Pero wala tayo magawa,” Araneta said. “That’s water under the bridge. We just have to do our own preparation.”
“We just have to make sure all the players are available,” the former national team standout added as the Azkals are expecting new faces to join the squad in half-Australian midfielder Iain Ramsay, half-Austrian defender Stephen Palla, and half-British teenager Luke Woodland, as well as the return of star Stephan Schrock.
“If all our players are available, then we have a good chance of making some upsets there,” Araneta said, adding the PFF is trying to arrange a friendly possibly against Vietnam next month.