Sunday, March 10, 2013

Fair Play: Our Challenge Cup challenge

COACH Michael Weiss told me a few weeks ago that he knows his job is on the line if the Philippines fails to make it to the 2014 Challenge Cup.

And I agree, after a third place finish in 2012, failing to make it would be a disaster, especially that we're hosting the qualifiers.

"Heads will roll if we don't make it," Coach Weiss said in that interview, "And not only mine but in the PFF too."

He didn't mention names but he said the Challenge Cup qualifiers is not only a test for the national team, for football in this country in general. Of where we are now.

And less than two weeks before the Philippines kicks off its campaign against Brunei, we are looking good. And I have to laud the PFF for moving the games, originally scheduled early March, to the Fifa designated dates of March 22, 24 and 26.

The move means players like Neil Etherdige and Stephen Schrock--who missed the Suzuki Cup last year--will be released by their clubs and also gives us the luxury of knowing whether we made it in the first two games alone.

Twenty teams are in the qualifiers, and they are divided into five groups, with four teams each.  The top teams in each group, plus the two best second-placers will make the finals, along with host Maldives.

And right now, the two best second placers are Bangladesh (6 points, 6 GD) in Group D and India (6 points, 4 GD) in Group A.  Group B with Krygyzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan and Macau will start on March 17, while Group E (Philippines, Cambodia, Brunei, Turkmenistan) is last to kick off.

Right now if win by a healthy scoreline against Brunei on March 22 and Cambodia on March 24, we should be one of the two top second-ranked teams even before the match against dangerous Turkmenistan and regardless of who finishes second in Group B.  The target to beat is Bangladesh, because if the second-ranked team in Group B finishes with a better record than Bangaldesh, we're still in.  

That's why our strikers Phil Younghusband and Denis Wolf--whose goal-scoring spree sometimes comes after cringe-worthy misses--really need to be at their best in the first two games.  They need to bring their A-game.

Can we beat Brunei and Cambodia? Sure we can and we have.  We beat Brunei, 4-1, in the AFF Championships qualifiers in 2006 in Bacolod with Phil getting a hat trick and we beat them again, 1-0, in the Challenge Cup qualifiers in 2008 in Iloilo.  We beat Cambodia, 1-0, on an Aly Borromeo penalty in 2006 too, and I remember Cambodia's Australian coach snapping at the media during the press conference.

"DID YOU NOT SEE MY REACTION!" He bellowed twice at the four of us in the press room.

Right now, Coach Weiss is downplaying our chances and I guess, that makes sense.  But we got our path opened to use for the 2014 Challenge Cup and only a disaster can stop us.  If that happens, well, you know the drill…

2014 HOST.  By the way, there’s an interesting tidbit in the choosing of the host.  Before Maldives got the gig, I learned that the PFF got an interesting call from the AFC, who said something like, “Guys, we sent you an e-mail you weren’t supposed to receive, please don’t read it and delete it. Thank you.”  It's sort of like Asian football's equivalent of a guy mis-sending an "I miss you" text for his paramour to his wife.

Naturally, they read the e-mail, which basically announced the Philippines was to host the 2014 Challenge Cup and which is why folks were saying things like, “We could have some of the matches in Cebu” and “We are confident we will get the hosting rights.”

Days later, Maldives, which according to Borromeo only has one stadium, got the gig.

Bummer?  Makes you want to bellow at the AFC, “Do you want to see our reaction???”


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