WHILE the goals for the Azkals’ maiden Asian Cup appearance are modest, winning the Asean Football Federation Championship is of paramount importance.
Since the ‘Miracle in Hanoi’ in 2010 when the Philippines reached the last four, the Azkals have made the knockout stages twice after but had a forgettable outing the last time out in 2016, as they failed to win a single game in the group stages resulting into early elimination.
But Azkals chief benefactor Dan Palami is confident the team can make a big jump from that debacle to regional champions.
The Suzuki Cup starts next month and ends in December.
"For me this is where it all started for the Azkals that’s why the importance of winning the Suzuki Cup is paramount,” said Palami during the Philippine Sportswriters Association forum on Tuesday at Tapa King in Cubao.
“It’s about time we show ourselves as champions of Southeast Asia. I think it is complementary that a good performance in the Suzuki Cup gives us momentum heading into the Asian Cup,” Palami added.
While the Philippines have fared quite well in the international rankings, that wouldn’t mean much to their Southeast Asian neighbors without a Suzuki Cup title.
The Azkals are basically in the same group that they were two years ago, with defending champion and perennial regional powerhouse Thailand the favorites to win the group.
Indonesia, Singapore and Timor Leste complete the group with the top two teams entering the home and away knockout stages.
With the arrival of a new coach in Sven Goran Eriksson and a rejuvenated squad, Palami is confident of the team’s chances.
“We are in the final stretch of our preparations for the Suzuki Cup and to be honest with you, we have a deeper talent pool right now,” Palami said, saying that it’s definitely going to be a competition for team spots.
“A lot of positions are up for grabs which I think is a good problem for us to have.”