Azkals seek to overtake China for 2nd spot when World Cup Qualifiers resume

Azkals to overtake China FIFA World Cup
The Philippine Azkals are currently ranked third with 7 points, behind China and Syria. Photo courtesy of The Azkals.

The Philippine Azkals will be seeking to overtake Team China for the second spot when the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers 2022 / AFC Asian Cup 2023 preliminary joint qualifiers finally resume after the lockdown.

The Philippine National Men’s Football Team is currently placed in 3rd rank with 7 points after 4 games in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar Qualifiers in November 2019. China has the same points as the Philippines but with better goal scores. The two teams’ standings are behind 1st-placer Syria’s 15 points.

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It was in October 2019 when Cardiff City’s Best Player of the Season Neil Etheridge-led Azkals executed a stunning stop of then-Group A leader China Team Dragon to force a draw, 0-0, in the Joint Qualifiers’ game for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup held at the Panaad Park and Stadium in Bacolod.

The Philippine Azkals had previously claimed their first win at the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup Asian Qualifiers, trouncing host team Guam, 4-1, on September 10, 2019.

The Azkals were supposed to be facing Guam last March 26, China PR on June 4, and Maldives on June 9, but Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has postponed all matches and competitions scheduled for May and June 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Azkals coach Scott Cooper told ESPN in a May 12 report that although the games’ suspension also stopped the momentum of The Azkals, he wants the team to aim higher.

“Obviously, we’ve been to the Asian Cup and we have to tip our hat to [former coach Thomas] Dooley for getting the team there, and then it was overall a poor showing. To go one better there would be to get through the group like Thailand and Vietnam did [in 2019],” said Cooper, referring to the Philippine Azkals’ first-ever appearance at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup men’s football championship in January 2019.

“Then, of course, we want to get to the next phase of World Cup qualifying and we’re going to give it our best shot,” said Cooper.

In an Instagram Live interview, Azkals full-back Daisuke Sato said he wants the Philippines to win a competition like the Suzuki Cup.

“This will change everything in the country. Like more help from the government, more attention to the national team” said Sato.

Etheridge agreed with Sato.

“The next step is to reach the Final, but the next step is to win it and create real movement within South East Asia. And then obviously, hopefully, get into another Asian Cup and get outside that group,” Etheridge said.

Meantime, Philippine Football Federation(PFF) President Nonong Araneta in an interview on government-run Radyo Pilipinas 2 announced scenarios for the resumption of the games.

“World Cup Qualifiers namin na games for March and June, ang sabi is that it will be in the October windows and November. Yun ang advice ng AFC,” Araneta said.

“Ang Suzuki Cup will start supposedly on November. So kung magiging conflict iyon sa World Cup Qualifier, then we can schedule the Suzuki Cup in December and probably the Championship will be in January. Those are the different scenarios right now,” he added.

Araneta added that PFF has formed an ad hoc committee to discuss health issues and safety protocols that they will present to the authorities once mass gathering suspension is lifted.

“So ang mangyayari diyan is how do we go about this with the existing regulations. Iyon ang titignan pa kung paano ang gagawin. Para at least kung mag-approve ang gobyerno natin na pwede na ang football then we can already present to them that these are the things that we are supposed to do to ensure the safety,” Araneta said.

ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) announced last March 25, 2020, the postponement of several AFF competitions. Extended suspensions were announced in mid-April.

SEND WELL WISHES in the comments below to The Philippines Azkals as they prepare to overtake China for 2nd spot when World Cup Qualifiers finally resume.

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