Tag Archives: AFF Suzuki Cup

A Painful Lesson: Philippines Eliminated from the Suzuki Cup

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It was not the result that everyone wanted but the Azkals’ elimination may have served as a way to bring everyone back to the ground.

The Philippine Sports Stadium was left stunned when the full-time whistle was blown last Friday. November 25, 2016 will be etched into the minds of Philippine football fans as the day the Philippine Men’s National football team bowed out of the AFF Suzuki Cup group stage for the first time in six years. Perhaps it will be more painful to remember because the Philippines hosted the group stage this year.

At full-time, Thailand coach Kiatisuk Senamuang had just one word for the fans in the stadium:

“Sorry.”

And he truly was apologetic. Thailand had arguably given the Philippines the chance to advance by fielding their second stringers for the match. However, the Azkals failed to convert all their chances and in the 81st minute, Sarawut Masuk broke the hearts of Filipino fans with a winner.

Coach Thomas Dooley was left to rue about the forgettable campaign. If the Philippines had won at least one game instead of drawing 2, they would have advanced to the semifinals.

“We would have liked to go to the next round,” said Dooley. “It’s disappointing but we have to move on.”

Indonesia, who defeated Singapore with a 2-1 come from behind win in Rizal Memorial Stadium, claimed the second semifinal slot at the Azkals’ expense.

Now where does the Philippine team go from here? There are now several questions up in the air.

For a team that had so much promise, the Suzuki Cup exit proved to be a massive disappointment especially as the country was hosting the tournament for the first time. From what could have been a tournament to remember, the campaign became a tournament of what ifs.

What if Neil Etheridge, Daisuke Sato, and Javier Patino were all available during the Suzuki Cup, would it have been a better showing for the Azkals?

Perhaps. But knowing that the Suzuki Cup always falls outside the FIFA international match window, team management could have put more time and effort to secure these players for the tournament. Or, they could have adjusted earlier knowing full well that there really was a huge possibility that the overseas-based players would not be released by their clubs.

Another factor to consider was losing Simone Rota and Patrick Reichelt to injuries. The two injured players, who were part of the 2014 campaign, could have helped the team during the tournament. The absence of these key players left Dooley to field players in unusual positions.

The next edition of the Suzuki Cup will be in two years time, hopefully there will be better communication between the national team and all the clubs concerned both here and abroad.

Still, the 23-man Philippine squad showed some grit during the 2-2 fight back against Indonesia and even in the loss to Thailand.

“The players played with heart and they played what they could as long as their legs kept moving,” said Dooley after the match with Thailand. “They tried to do everything but it is what it is.”

What if the Philippine Sports Stadium was packed to the rafters?

The attendance at the Philippine Sports Stadium were extremely disappointing. With a seating capacity of 25,000, the highest attended match in the Suzuki Cup at the stadium was only 4,300. In contrast, co-hosts Myanmar enjoyed full support in the group stage with attendances averaging almost 30,000 people across all their three match dates.

Both coach Thomas Dooley and the players have asked fans to go out to the Stadium way before the tournament started. But those words seemingly fell on deaf ears and fans were probably not too keen about trekking to the Stadium which is located beyond the outskirts of Manila.

Truth be told, going to the Philippine Sports Stadium is no easy task especially because of the lack of public transport. The Philippine Football Federation made the effort to provide shuttles for the fans, but it was not enough to bring enough warm bodies to the stadium.

One positive takeaway from the fans attendance was the undying support showed by the Ultras Filipinas. The group shouted their hearts out in support of the team, their voices reverberating throughout the stadium and creating an intimidating atmosphere despite the dismal attendance numbers.

What if “that” substitution never happened?

With less than 15 minutes left to salvage a win, Dooley made a sub that arguably decided the Azkals’ campaign. Kevin Ingreso came on for the 17-year-old Marco Casambre, perhaps hoping of shoring up the defense late in the match. That plan ultimately backfired as Thailand scored on the break with nine minutes left from time.

Dooley thought the tactic would work, opting for speed instead of stability in defense. “We needed more speed in defense, that’s why I put (Kevin) in. That was the plan,” the head coach explained after the match.

However, that substitution might not have decided the match had the Philippines converted any of their chances. The Azkals had 12 shots with seven on target. Had any of those seven shots gone in, it could have been a different story altogether.

“We created couple of chances, we had good chances,” added Dooley. “We could have won it in the first half but it is what it is, they have very good players.”

What is next for the Azkals?

After every campaign, the question usually asked is, what’s next? It will be a good four months before the Philippines returns to action on the international stage. The AFC Asian Cup 2019 Qualifiers begin on March 2017.

The next four months will be crucial for Dooley as the Philippines will be matched up against stiff opposition in the qualifiers.

“(We need to) do the right thing to prepare for the Asian Cup and we need to plan for it, like a four-week camp and constant training sessions.” Dooley said when asked about Asian Cup Qualifiers preparations. “It’s something we have to be careful to prepare.”

Captain Phil Younghusband also shared his thoughts moving forward:

“The progression of football has been there and not qualifying to the semifinals is a disappointment, but we still have high expectations because we have good players and we know their quality (moving forward),” Azkals skipper said. “We’ve got (enough) time to look at the games and where we need to learn and improve. The (AFC Asian Cup) Qualifiers will be more difficult because we will be playing countries from all over Asia.”

This Suzuki Cup was the last edition where there will be a host nation. From 2018, the Suzuki Cup will still follow the group stage format, but it will be played home-and-away. The change in format means that while the Philippines will still have the chance to play the group stage matches on home soil, it will not be known how many matches will be hosted in the Philippines until the seeding in the draw.

At the end of the day, the Suzuki Cup elimination may just be the lesson the team and Philippine football fans needed to remember exactly how far they still need to go. For the past six years, Philippine football has dared to chase its dreams. Now, it is time to face reality. — CAL

Semifinals or Bust: Philippines Meets Thailand for Suzuki Cup Semifinal Bid

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The Philippine Men’s National Football team are set to play against Thailand’s War Elephants tonight in their final group game of the Suzuki Cup, 8:00 PM at the Philippine Sports Stadium. The match that could ultimately decide the Azkals Suzuki Cup destiny.

A far cry from their previous Suzuki Cup experience, the Azkals have made this journey far less comfortable, drawing both Singapore and Indonesia in their first two games to end up in second place with two points. Now, they face an all-conquering Thailand side and nothing but a win will put them safely through to the next round.

“This game could be last game but it is also the most important game. There will be a little bit more pressure on the field,” said Coach Thomas Dooley. “Our main focus is on getting the three points.”

Thailand had been an absolute bane for the Philippines since the inception of the Suzuki Cup. Their last meeting came in the Suzuki Cup semifinals where Thailand won the match, 3-0. This time, the War Elephants are less pressured heading to the match having already qualified to the next round.

“Never won against a team and have chance to go the semifinals if you win, sometimes in football, anything can happen,” added Dooley. “We have to prepare 100% and hope Thailand don’t and make a few more mistakes because they already have first place and have nothing to play for.”

The players are also keen to lift the team especially as their backs are against the wall.

“Everybody is ready to play, mentally very strong and positive and this is something we need. I told them from beginning we need to see every game as development of our fitness levels,” continued Dooley. “If we go next round we have another two games and we get fitter by the game. I think that’s positive for us.”

Already assured of a spot to the next round, Thai coach Senamuang may look for his second stringers for the match, but the Thai maestro will not make it easy against the Azkals. Forward Teerasil Dangda has been impressive for the champions, having scored a hat-trick against Indonesia. Midfielder Chanathip Songkrasin has also been on point with his passing.

“For Thailand team, although go to next round already, but tomorrow game is important too,” said Senamuang. “We will give standard for our team.”

Aside from the match in the Philippine Sports Stadium, Singapore and Indonesia also square off at the Rizal Memorial Stadium at the same time. A win for either Singapore or Indonesia, along with a Thailand victory will see the Philippines exit the competition in the group stage for the first time in six years. A draw between the teams in Rizal and a draw for the Philippines and Thailand will be enough for the Azkals to advance.

Both matches kick off at 8 PM, the Azkals match will be shown live on Aksyon TV, Fox Sports, and Fox Sports HD. — CAL

Phil Younghusband Finally Ends His Drought

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Philippine captain Phil Younghusband have scored a lot of goals throughout the years. The midfielder, who played as a forward, had been a constant thorn in oppositions sides with already 42 goals to his name for the Philippines.

However a change in position last year left him in the midfield as the scoring mantle was passed on to Misagh Bahadoran and Javier Patino, and more recently, to Stephan Schrock and Mike Ott. It left Younghusband, who was also named captain last year, unable to add to his tally. Until last night.

With ten minutes remaining in a match where the Philippines were a goal behind against Indonesia, it was Younghusband who was tasked to take the free kick from at least 25 yards out.

“I made sure the keeper was tested that was the most important thing,” said Younghusband.

The Azkals captain kept his composure and struck and magnificent free kick to score his 43rd international goal. The 2,000+ strong crowd at the Philippine Sports Stadium went berserk as the Philippines equalized.

To make it even sweeter, it was Younghusband’s 43rd goal and his first goal in two years. Surprisingly, the midfielder last scored for the Philippines also against Indonesia in the AFF Suzuki Cup two years ago.

“I felt good at the time because it gave us a chance to win the game with ten minutes to go,” added the captain.

However, the winning goal did not materialize as the Philippines settled for a 2-2 draw. Currently the Philippines have two points in Group A with Singapore and Indonesia both a point behind.

It will be an uphill task for the Azkals as Thailand await them on Friday.

“We try to be optimistic. We still have a chance to qualify. That’s the important thing,” Younghusband said. — CAL

Younghusband Keeps Suzuki Cup Semis Bid Alive in Draw vs Indonesia

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Phil Younghusband kept the Philippines in contention for a spot in the semifinals after a nerve-wracking 2-2 draw against Indonesia last night at the Philippine Sports Stadium.
The Azkals captain could not have picked a more perfect way to end his 2-year goal drought. It was a well taken free kick in the 82nd minute to keep the race for the second semifinal spot alive heading in to the final match day on Friday.
“It was an exciting game,” said coach Thomas Dooley after the match. “Overall I think 2-2 scoreline is okay even if (Indonesia) had plenty of chances to win.”
Thomas Dooley made two changes in an otherwise unchanged squad. Martin Steuble started over Kenshiro Daniels at right back while Hikaru Minegishi made his first international start over Iain Ramsay.
Indonesia, who had improved from their last meeting in 2014, took a shock lead in the seventh minute. Fachruddin Aryanto sent a free header past Muller after the Azkals defense broke following Stefano Lilipally’s free kick.
The early goal set the tone of the match as Indonesia looked the more threatening side with their pace. However, the Philippine struck gold in the 31st minute, also from the set piece. Misagh Bahadoran slotted the ball in from close range at the end of Stephan Schrock’s free kick. The first half ended at 1-1.
The start of the second half saw the Philippines almost score the go ahead goal. Schrock released Bahadoran but the shot was straight to the side netting.
Indonesia then started to look threatening. Andik Vermansyah came close for the visitors in the 61st minute but his effort was denied by the post. The Merah Puti’s efforts paid off in the 68th minute when Boas Solozza struck to put Indonesia ahead for a second time.
With elimination from the tournament looming, the Azkals willed themselves to another comeback. Younghusband was brought down in the 81st minute and it set the tone for the captain’s return to his goalscoring ways.

From at least 25 yards out, Younghusband struck the ball beautifully into the top left corne. Pandemonium broke out around the stadium in the 82nd minute. It was the captain’s first goal in two years. Younghusband’s last goal was also in the Suzuki Cup against the same opposition.

In the opening match, Thailand qualified into the next around after defeating Singapore 1-0. Sarawut Masuk headed in a winner to break Singapore’s hearts after the Lions had been defending well for the whole of the match.

Thailand leads Group A with six points while the Philippines are in second with two points Singapore and Indonesia are just behind with a point apiece. Friday’s match will decide who will advance into the semifinals. The Philippines face Thailand at the Philippine Sports Stadium while Singapore face Indonesia at the Rizal Memorial Stadium. Kick off for both matches is at 8:00 PM. — CAL

Philippines Face Indonesia to Keep Semis Bid Alive

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The stakes might not get any higher as the Philippines look to keep their AFF Suzuki Cup 2016 semifinals hopes alive tonight when they play Indonesia at the Philippine Sports Stadium.

The Azkals were left to rue their chances as they blew the opportunity to defeat Singapore. Despite getting their fair share of chances the Philippines failed to defeat a 10-man Singapore side last Saturday.

“Both teams have to win,” said Philippines coach Thomas Dooley. “This is a game that you could win, lose, or even tie. We just have to play our style.”

The Merah Puti have been a thorn in the Philippines side for quite a long time. The 13-1 hammering in 2002 is probably the most lopsided against the Azkals. However, the Azkals were blazing in their last meeting two years ago also in the Suzuki Cup. The Azkals finished off the Merah Puti with a 4-0 rout.

Indonesia gave a bit of a scare to defending champions Thailand in the opening match of Group A last Saturday. Goals from Boas Solossa and Lerby Eliandry put Indonesia on level terms after they went down 2-nil in the first half, but two late strikes from Teerasil Dangda ruined what could have been a memorable comeback.

One concern that has bothered the Azkals is player fitness. However, Dooley noted that the further this team could go, the better they could be as far as fitness is concerned.

“I have told my players that the longer we stay in the tournament, the more we will improve,” added Dooley. “We have to try to play smart and get our fitness levels up.”

The match kicks off at 8:00 PM at the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bulacan. It will be shown live on Aksyon TV, Fox Sports, and Fox Sports HD. – CAL

Profiling the AFF Suzuki Cup Opponents

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The three countries that join the Philippines in Group A have been regular fixtures in the competition and have made remarkable strides through the years. Two of these countries have been crowned AFF Champions four times while the other one has been a perennial fixture in the Suzuki Cup final but has yet to claim the trophy.

The three teams — Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand — all have something in common: they have defeated the Azkals in the semifinal round of the competition.

Singapore – The Hunt for Fifth
The Singaporeans come to the Suzuki Cup looking for a much needed revival. Singapore hosted the tournament in 2014 but were eliminated in the group stage at the hands of fierce rivals Malaysia. Bernd Stange has since left the side with former Tampines Rovers coach V. Sundramoothry now in charge to lead the side for a fifth Suzuki Cup title campaign.

According to reports, Sundramoothry will be relying on experience in his squad. The former Singapore national has called up veteran defenders Baihakki Khaizan and Daniel Bennet, and forwards Shahril Ishak and Khairul Amri. Safuwan Baharudin, who was on loan for A-League side Melbourne Victory FC, is also on the squad.

Last Five Matches: LDLLW

The Lions have only picked up a single win going into the Suzuki Cup, a 1-0 win over Cambodia last Sunday. The losses against Bahrain, Hong Kong, and Syria were looked as ways to prepare for their matches in the Philippines. Their only draw was against Malaysia.

The last time Singapore faced the Philippines was in the 2012 Suzuki Cup semifinals. The first semifinal match ever held in Manila ended in a scoreless draw. Amri scored the winning goal in the return leg en route to their fourth Suzuki Cup title.

Singapore face the Philippines on November 19 at the Philippine Sports Stadium.

Indonesia – Back from the Void
Indonesia head to the Suzuki Cup with renewed vigor after a forgetful 2015 when the country were suspended by FIFA due to problems in their federation. The suspension left the country out of the FIFA World Cup and AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers.

This time, Alfred Riedl’s side have improved after missing out on the semifinals for the past two tournaments. Stefano Lilypally, Andik Vermansyah, and the young Evan Dimas are tasked to lead their side back to the semifinals. Hotshot midfielder Irfan Bachdim was ruled out with a knee injury just a few days before the start of the tournament.

Last Four Matches: WDDW

The Garudas have faced South East Asian opposition in the run up to the tournament. Last month, Indonesia hammered Malaysia, 3-0, followed by a 2-2 stalemate against Vietnam. Earlier this month, Indonesia played Group B hosts Myanmar to a scoreless draw and lost to Vietnam, 3-2. Indonesia have only played four matches since the lifting of their FIFA suspension

Indonesia have enjoyed playing the Philippines in the past including an emphatic 13-1 win over the Azkals in 2002. Another memorable result for the Indonesians was the 2-0 aggregate win in the 2010 semifinals where both matches had to be played at the imposing Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta. However, that the tide has recently turned for the Azkals, who came away with a 4-0 win in the 2014 Suzuki Cup. It was their first win over Indonesia in 80 years and allowed them to advance to the semifinals that year.

Indonesia meet the Philippines on November 22 at the Philippine Sports Stadium.

Thailand – Gunning for a Repeat
Defending Suzuki Cup champions Thailand are tipped to retain the title: their brand of football that has brought the region to its knees. Led by Kiatisuk “Zico” Senamuang, Thailand have already made history by becoming the only South East Asian team to qualify to the next round of the World Cup Qualifiers.

The country is in mourning because of the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Football was greatly affected in the country: all football competitions ended prematurely as the country mourned. Despite the mood, Thailand are intact with their title winning squad in 2014: Chanathip Songkrasin, Sarach Yooyen, Charyl Chappuis, and goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan are all back. Teerasil Dangda is the only big addition to the squad. The forward was part of the 2008 and 2012 squad that reached the final and recently has been on the mark for his country.

Last Five Matches: LLLLD

The poor run of results might pose a question to Thailand. However all their matches came in the World Cup Qualifiers where they have faced the likes of Saudi Arabia, Japan, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, and Australia. Just last Tuesday, Thailand claimed a morale boosting 2-2 draw against Australia at the Rajamangala Stadium with Teerasil scoring twice.

The Philippines have yet to defeat Thailand in all competitions. The Azkals met the War Elephants in the Suzuki Cup in 2014. The first match ended in a 0-0 draw as Thailand ended the match with ten men. The War Elephants answered back with a 3-0 win in the second leg and they went on the win the title.

Thailand take on the Philippines on November 25 at the Philippine Sports Stadium. — CAL

Photo Credits: Khairul Amri: Goal.com, Andik Vermansyah: Bolakini.net, Chanathip Songkrasin: ESPN FC

Throwback: Ten Suzuki Cup Moments for the Azkals

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With the AFF Suzuki Cup set to kick off in a couple of days, Football.com.ph has come up with a bit of a throwback to look at several dates that the Azkals played in the tournament thus far.

The Philippines have participated in every installment of the Suzuki Cup except in 2008 when they failed to advance past the qualifying round. In all, the Philippines has played 36 games (including semifinals) winning six games, drawing five, and losing 25.

We have selected a number of matches from the past to remind us how far the Philippines has gone, and how far we have yet to go.

September 2, 1996 – The first ever Suzuki Cup match: Philippines 0-5 Thailand
It was a painful start for the Azkals in the Suzuki Cup as they yielded to Thailand, 5-0 at the Jurong Stadium in Singapore. Current Thailand head coach Kiatisuk Senamuang scored in that game in the 14th minute.

August 29, 1998 – Freddy Gonzales scores the first ever Suzuki Cup goal: Thailand 3-1 Philippines
Former Loyola Meralco Sparks striker Freddy Gonzales opened the Philippines’ account in the tournament with a 30th minute strike. However, Thailand scored thrice to claim the win at the Thong Nhat Stadium in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

December 23, 2002 – Indonesia 13-1 Philippines
Going into the last match of the group stage, Indonesia needed to win big to advance to the semifinal round. The Philippines were the opposition that evening at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium and it only took the Garudas 16 minutes to score three goals as the match ended in a 13-1 rout. Former Ceres-La Salle head coach and now technical director Ali Go scored the consolation in the 78th minute.

December 14, 2004 – Caligdong Leaves it Late To Claim Maiden Suzuki Cup Win: Philippines 2-1 Timor Leste
Emelio “Chieffy” Caligdong could not have asked for a better debut. The current Azkals assistant coach came off the bench to score twice in the dying minutes of the match to claim a 2-1 win over Timor Leste at the Bukit Jalil Stadium in Malaysia. It was the Azkals’ first ever win in the competition. Caligdong’s goals were timed in the 91st and 93rd minutes.

November 14, 2006 – Phil Younghusband has Arrived: Philippines 7-0 Timor Leste
Facing the same opposition they defeated two years prior, the Younghusband-powered Philippines ran riot and scored seven goals past Timor Leste in the AFF qualifiers held at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City. Current Azkals topscorer Phil Younghusband opened his account with a four goal romp as he went on to become the top scorer of the qualifiers. Chris Greatwich, Ariel Zerrudo, and Caligdong also found the back of the net.

October 23, 2008 – Azkals Miss Out on Suzuki Cup: Cambodia 2-3 Philippines
The Philippines missed out on the big dance for the very first time despite winning their final game against Cambodia, 2-3. Aly Borromeo, Greatwich, and Chad Gould netted for the Azkals in front of 15,000 Cambodian fans. However, Cambodia won their final match against Brunei to advance to the final rounds scoring nine goals to the Philippines’ six.

October 24, 2010 – Younghusbands Send Azkals to Hanoi: Philippines 2-2 Laos
Losing to Laos by two goals with less than 15 minutes left, the Azkals pulled off a Harry Houdini to clinch a point in a thrilling 2-2 draw. Phil Younghusband scored a penalty in the 76th minute that was followed up by a James Younghusband equalizer in the 94th minute. A draw against Cambodia two days later confirmed their participation in the final rounds in Hanoi

December 5, 2010 – Hanoi Miracle: Philippines 2-0 Vietnam
They were expected to lose. They were expected to be humiliated in front of 40,000 Vietnamese fans at the My Dinh Stadium. But on that warm day in Hanoi, everything went the other way. The Philippines defeated Vietnam 2-0 to turn a few heads. Vietnam were reigning champions and the loss to the Philippines cracked their invulnerability. Greatwich broke the deadlock in the 38th minute and Phil Younghusband, who was sick that day, clinched the upset in the 79th minute.

November 27, 2012 – Hail to the Ch13f: Vietnam 0-1 Philippines
Vietnam and the Philippines squared off once again two years after that fateful December night. This time the venue was the Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok. Both teams were deadlocked at 0-0 with four minutes left when Angel Guirado launched a long ball to find Caligdong free in the box. The substitute nailed Vietnam’s coffin shut with a sublime strike past the goalkeeper to win it for the Philippines.

November 25, 2014 – Indonesia Vanquished: Philippines 4-0 Indonesia
The memory of the 13-1 game in 2002 may still have been on everyone’s mind heading into this match. Phil Younghusband scored a 16th minute penalty to put the Philippines ahead at the half. Tense moments followed in the second half as Indonesia applied pressure, but Manny Ott doubled the advantage with a terrific strike in the 52nd minute. Martin Steuble sneaked in a cleverly-timed indirect free kick to make it 3-0 before Rob Gier surprised everyone with a goal 11 minutes from time. The win was the Azkals’ first over the Indonesians in 80 years and allowed them to advance to the semifinals for the third straight time.

Ten games, ten results that made massive impacts on the Azkals in the Suzuki Cup. Will there be more good results and stories to tell this year? One thing’s for sure, this tournament is definitely going to be exciting.

Suzuki Cup: The Perfect Place for Revenge?

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Azkals coach Thomas Dooley insists that the Philippines should make their hosting of the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup a performance to remember against the three teams that kicked them out of the competition in the past.

The Philippines were handed a tough assignment in the Suzuki Cup draw: defending champions Thailand, four-time winners Singapore, and a resurgent Indonesia. Dooley, who will lead his side for a second Suzuki Cup, stated that their group is a place where they cannot take any games for granted.

“Honestly, (our group) is the strongest group,” said Dooley. “I really must say that I like the situation that we have the three teams that kicked us out last three tournaments. It a perfect place for revenge.”

Heading into the tournament, the Azkals were given a boost with Stephan Schrock’s loan deal extension with Ceres-La Salle FC up until January 2017. Goalkeeper Roland Muller, who last featured in the loss against Yemen in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, has also sealed a long-term deal with the Bacolod club.

The squad reinforcements comes at a convenient time for Dooley. Several overseas-based players, such as Daisuke Sato, Luke Woodland, Neil Etheridge, and maybe Iain Ramsay, have a slim chance of joining the team for the Suzuki Cup since the tournament falls outside of the FIFA international window. Javier Patiño, on the other hand, has a chance to join the Azkals as the Chinese Super League finishes on November 5th, two weeks before the Suzuki Cup.

However, the former United States captain reiterated that performance on the field — not career accomplishments — remains the deciding factor for players to get a spot on the squad.

“I have been saying that since the first day I came over here,” Dooley said, “It’s not about the age, not about the looks, not about the fame, not about where they play, it’s all about performance in training and performance on the field.”

Dooley also highlighted how important the little details are moving forward. The Azkals reached an all-time high of 115 in the FIFA rankings last May but have since dropped back to 134.

“Everything has a huge effect on the team, where you sleep, how you sleep, how you eat, how you travel, and also how you prepare for a match,” continued Dooley. “The challenge we have for the next few months is for everything to be right.”

The Azkals are revving up for the Suzuki Cup starting with a friendly against Turkmenistan on September 2 in Manila, and Kyrgyzstan on September 6 in Bishkek. — CAL

PFF President Mariano V. Araneta during the AFF Suzuki Cup draw held in Yangon, Myanmar Photo from the AFF Suzuki Cup

2016 AFF Suzuki Cup Draw: Azkals Chance for Redemption

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The Philippines face a tall order in the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup as the Azkals will be up against the three sides that conquered them in their previous semifinals stints in the competition.

Hosting South East Asia’s premier competition for the very first time, the Philippines will face defending champions Thailand, four-time winners Singapore, and four-time runners up Indonesia in Group A. The Philippine Sports Stadium in Bocaue, Bulacan will be used as the main venue for the tournament while the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila will be used as the alternate venue. All Azkals matches will be played in Bulacan.

Myanmar is the other host for the competition’s group stage. The Burmese side will face Malaysia, Vietnam, and the winner of the qualifying round, which will be contested by Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, and Timor Leste.

The Philippines looks to go one better in the tournament that started the football revival in the country.

The Azkals emerged in 2010 when they stunned then defending champions Vietnam with a 2-0 win on the Golden Stars home turf. The victory propelled the nation to its very first semifinal berth where they were defeated by eventual runners up, Indonesia, 2-0 on aggregate. This time around, Indonesia are coming off a lengthy FIFA ban and look to regain their spot in South East Asia.

The Philippines repeated the feat in 2012 in Thailand after defeating Vietnam and Myanmar. However, they were felled by 2012 winners, Singapore, 1-0 on aggregate, in the semifinals. For their part, Singapore hosted the 2014 edition of the tournament but failed to advance to the semifinals.

In Hanoi in 2014, the Philippines defeated Laos and Indonesia, lost to Vietnam, and advanced to their third straight semfinals. Despite having a strong performance, the Philippines, this time under coach Thomas Dooley, were defeated by Thailand, who went on to win the competition. Thailand’s Suzuki Cup win in 2014 began their ascent to greater heights: the War Elephants have reached the third round of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers which begins next month.

The Azkals first face Singapore on November 19, followed by Indonesia on November 22. The last group stage match will be against Thailand on November 25. All three games will be held at the Philippine Sports Stadium. The top two teams of the group stage will advance to the semifinal round which is set on December 3 or 4 and 7or 8. The AFF Suzuki Cup 2016 Final matches are slated on December 14 and 17. — CAL

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