PHILIPPINE men’s football team manager Dan Palami is a man of his word.
After promising during an appearance at the Philippine Sportswriters Forum in October that the Azkals will live up to mounting expectations, Palami returned to the same conference on Tuesday pleased to able to back up his words.
“Last time I was here, I said we’re not considered minnows anymore. I’m just glad that we were able to prove it and not come here having to swallow my words.”
After the national booters made a return trip to the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup semifinals to face Singapore starting this Saturday at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, Palami is well aware the Azkals still have much to prove.
“The pressure is mounting and we look at it as a challenge and not an obstacle,” he said.
Despite the Azkals outclassing Singapore's Lions twice in friendlies over the last three months, Palami believes their opponents still hold distinct advantages over the Azkals.
“One of their biggest advantage is heft. There are a few teams in Southeast Asia that’s bigger than us. And they are one of them,” Palami said.
“And they’ve been playing together for quite some time now so the familiarity and cohesion is there,” he added.
Palami is also wary of Singapore’s skipper Shahril Ishak, who scored the team’s first goal that sparked the Lions’ comeback from two goals down against Laos, 4-3, and gave them the top seeding in Group A last Saturday.
“We give respect to him, but I think we have good defenders who can outsmart him sa box,” Palami said.
The Azkals’ Back Four, though, remains in question as only Rob Gier and Carli de Murga are sure to play in Saturday's home match at the Rizal pitch.
Team management is still waiting for confirmation from right-back Dennis Cagara’s professional team in Germany, as well as striker Angel Guirado’s Indian club later in the day.
Midfielder Paul Mulders has been cleared to play, while defensive midfielder Jerry Lucena is set to play only in the second leg on December 12 at the Jalan Besar Stadium in Singapore.
Palami mentioned midfielders Chris Greatwich, Demit Omphroy, and Marwin Angeles as possible replacements should the other starters be unavailable.
“The options are open, the depth is there,” he said.