Friday, October 05, 2012

Leveling up time for the Azkals

AFTER facing our Southeast Asian neighbors in a few friendlies, and winning the Peace Cup, the Philippine men's team is about to level up with two friendlies against Bahrain and Kuwait in its Middle East training camp next month.

Kuwait was the team that booted us out of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, and though it has dropped 12 places in the latest rankings, it is still at 112th in the world and 13th in Asia, quite a long ways from the Philippines (147, 21).  Bahrain has dropped three places but is at 115th and 15th.

The results against the two squads should gauge whether Dan Palami's plan--to be among the top third in Asia--announced during the 2011 PFF Board of Governors meeting is on track.

And for this camp, the PFF has invited Phil and James Younghusband back and it's good that that distraction is being solved. As Dan said, "As a team, we take this time to bridge differences as we work towards a common goal."

In the days after the brothers' non-inclusion, some fans were going at each other, arguing that the brothers help put the Azkals where they are right now.  For me, it's an exercise in futility, a chicken and egg thing. It’s true, the Azkals benefitted from the two brothers' presence, but you could say, too, without the Azkals, Phil is just a former Chelsea reserve whose claim to fame is joining a singing contest, while James is, well, he's Phil's brother.

Though it's probably arguable to say that both need each other, it's a given that both benefit from each other. 

Aside from the two, other players who missed the Peace Cup and have been called up for the Middle East camp are Angel and Juan Guirado, Rob Gier, Ray Jonsson, Jerry Lucena, Roland Muller and Paul Mulders. And joining them are Ian Araneta, Misagh Bahadoran, Dennis Cagara, Chieffy Caligdong, Ref Cuaresma, Jason de Jong, Nestorio Margarse, Carli de Murga, Demitrius Omphroy, OJ Porteria, Patrick Reichelt, Ed Sacapano, Matthew Uy, Denis Wolf and Anto Gonzales, one of the oldest in the squad but is reportedly one of the fittest players.

And you can just imagine what Dan and Coach Michael Weiss' discussion on the lineup would be "Should we start Phil with Denis Wolf or Angel?" And with Jonsson and Lucena in, where would Jeffrey Christiaens be? Back in the midfield?  

By the way, Bob Guerrero pointed out in his article for Yahoo Philippines that the Philippines shouldn't be facing a team like Bahrain, which is facing political unrest.  Though I agree that he has a point, precisely because the Philippines started the People Power revolution, which has found its latest incarnation in the Middle East, and the Azkals have just been appointed Peace Ambassadors, I don't think politics should be a consideration when preparing for the Suzuki Cup or in sports events. 

Though there may be times--extraordinary circumstances--when politics play a role, but in this case, I don't think it should matter.  Besides, we faced teams like Myanmar and North Korea, too, while the US have also taken Iran in the sports' biggest stage.

One of the biggest surprises in the lineup is Ian Araneta, the striker who has struggled mightily the past year. You have to wonder, Ian must be doing something really impressive during scrimmages and training session to earn coach Weiss’ trust because he hasn’t delivered during matches.  Ruben Doctora, during his brief stint in the Bahrain camp last February, should he could perform, but he hasn’t been heard of since then.

I hope in this stint in the Middle East, we will finally see Ian get out of his slump.  This guy can score, but I think, the pressure to score is getting on him. 

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