GEARING up for the AFC Challenge Cup in the Maldives next month, the Philippines isn't letting up in its preparation with friendly matches and a training camp that will ensure that the Azkals will be in top form for their most important tournament yet.
Speaking at the PSA Forum at Shakey's Malate Tuesday, Azkals manager Dan Palami vowed to send the most prepared side to the tournament that stakes a spot in the continent's showpiece football event, the 2015 AFC Asian Cup.
The Azkals play Malaysia in a friendly in Cebu on Sunday, before flying to Bahrain on May 6 for a 10-day camp that will form the final part of their buildup.
The importance of the tournament isn't lost on Palami as well as the Azkals coaching staff led by coach Thomas Dooley.
"This (qualifying for the Asian Cup) will bring Philippine football to another level," said Palami, the man largely credited for the renaissance of the sport.
The Azkals face a daunting task of qualifying from Group B in the May 19-31 tournament. They face South Asian champion Afghanistan on May 20, before playing Laos - a team the Azkals have never beaten - two days later.
Turkmenistan, the 2012 runner up, will be the Azkals' last opponent in the group stage on May 24. Only the top two sides will advance to the crossover semifinals.
"We're condident of our chances," said Palami during the session presented by Accel, Shakey’s, and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.
The Azkals manager's optimism stems from his trust in Dooley who has transformed the Azkals into a well-drilled and organized side since taking over last February.
"Since the first game, I have given him high marks," said Palami. "I feel we are on right track. He has been understanding to us and knows that the Challenge Cup is something that is very important to us."
Palami said the Azkals have responded positively to Dooley's style.
"The improvement has become even more apparent in Qatar," said Palami referring to the 3-0 win over Nepal in Doha two weeks ago. "There's a better understanding of specific roles."
While some of the Azkal veterans are no longer on the squad, Palami said the mentality and spirit of the team has not changed.
"Our teams have plenty of fighting spirit," said Palami.