THE Philippine under-23 men’s football team is set to begin preparations early for the 2013 Southeast Asian Games in the hopes of bagging a breakthrough medal in Myanmar this December.
The country has yet to win a medal of any color since the regional competition was instituted in 1977 — a total of 18 editions of the biennial meet — but the Philippine Football Federation expressed optimism the drought will finally end.
The country’s best finish in the event was fourth place in the 1991 edition in Manila.
In 2011, the under-23 Azkals failed to make it to the knockout stage after ending up last among six teams in group B with a 1-4 win-loss record.
Azkals manager Dan Palami said some of the eligible under-23 players will train with the senior team until March. The Under-23 team will then be formed, start its own practice sessions, and train in two or three camps abroad.
The projected core of the Under-23 squad is composed of players from the main Azkals pool including Marvin and Marwin Angeles, Jeffrey Christiaens, Matthew Uy, Jason de Jong, Manny and Mike Ott, and Neil Etheridge, who Palami noted are in very good condition.
Palami, who is also the PFF national teams committee chair, added that Joshua Beloya and OJ Porteria, two of the goalscorers for the country in the 2011 edition in Indonesia, are also expected to return to the squad.
“With the early preparations that we have, and with eight of the players already fit and in condition, we just need a few more players to augment them,” Palami said on Tuesday in the Philippine Sportswriters Association Forum.
“And with the length of preparations available to them and with the program of training camps that are being set, we stand a good chance of getting a podium finish in the SEA Games.”
But Palami warned against too much expectation.
“The goal is always for the gold, but to be realistic, the other teams have been preparing earlier than us. But this time I think a medal finish is something the federation has set for the team.”
The national teams committee will have its summit on January 29 to “precisely finalize the plans not just for the under 23 but also the other age groups in terms of competitions and how we choose the players and coaching staff,” according to Palami.