THE Philippine men’s football may have ended a long title drought for the country, but the Azkals are well aware they still have a long way to go before becoming a real power in the sport.
The Azkals prevailed over Chinese Taipei, 3-1, on Saturday night to seize the Philippine Football Peace Cup title – a first for a Philippine men’s team in almost a century or since the 1913 Far Eastern Games, the forerunner of the Asian Games.
Azkals coach Michael Weiss, however, doesn’t want everyone to get carried away with the team’s success.
“We should not be overly joyful with this victory,” the German mentor said. “We should put it in the right context.”
Owing to their superior ranking over the opposition, the 150th-ranked Azkals were definitely expected to dominate the four-nation tournament.
They actually just did that as the Filipino booters finished the three-day meet with a perfect 3-0 win-loss record, surrendering just a lone goal for a total of nine points.
They beat 185th-ranked Guam, 1-0, in the opener Tuesday, before turning it up a notch two days later in a 5-0 clobbering of 200th-ranked Macau.
But the Azkals are expected to face tougher competition going to the final quarter of the year.
Next month, they embark on a Middle East tour, taking on 112th-ranked Bahrain on October 12 and four days later against 100th-ranked Kuwait. The Kuwaitis incidentally, outclassed the Filipinos, 5-1, on aggregate in the second round of the qualifier for the 2014 Fifa World Cup last year.
“We’re entering the final phase of our training,” Weiss said. “The level in Bahrain and Kuwait will be higher.”
Nevertheless, Chinese Taipei coach Tiang Mu Tsai lauded the Azkals’ growth over the last two years.
“This is something really difficult to achieve. After this (Peace Cup) win, I’m confident the Azkals will go higher again in the rankings,” said the Chinese-Taipei coach through an interpreter.
Despite the victory, Weiss wants his Azkals to set their sights on the real prize -- the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup.
“I hope in November we can bring another trophy,” said Weiss. “The best is yet to come.”
The Azkals, however, will need all the help they can get to win the Suzuki Cup, Southeast Asia’s premier tournament which the team considers as its World Cup.
Asked if he is ready to reinstate two of the Azkals’ best players in Phil and James Younghusband, Weiss remained non-committal.
“I can’t answer that for now. You should ask about the other players who were here like Demitrius Omphroy, OJ Porteria, and Matthew Uy,” he said.
The Younghusband brothers were left out of the Peace Cup roster due to what the team referred to as "economic and non-economic issues."
With a new-found chemistry and cohesion gained by the Azkals in the Peace Cup, Weiss could find himself in a dilemma if the Younghusbands do come back.
“It will be a very tricky situation,” Weiss said.