Fair Play: Have the stars finally aligned for the Azkals?

(This is my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu's May 28 edition)
LET'S face it, luck has rarely smiled on the Azkals. Just look at the draw we got for the World Cup qualifiers. For the Suzuki Cup campaign, Southeast Asia's premier tournament, we can't even get the best players available because Asean's centerpiece event is so small in Fifa's world that it's not part of the calendar.

Meaning, the players based in Europe won’t be compelled to play.

But for this year's World Cup qualifiers, it seems, fortune is smiling on us---as we got Stephen Schrock, Javier Patino and Neil Etheridge back, plus new kids Iain Ramsay, Luke Woodland, Stephen Palla and Kevin Ingreso. How did we get them to commit?

Dan Palami, ever the diplomat, has been in contact with Schrock and Etheridge even after their public fallout with coach Thomas Dooley. Dan and Coach Dooley were actually tinkering about the World Cup qualifiers squad in the days after the Challenge Cup exit and got things moving after the Suzuki Cup.

"(There was a) sense of urgency right after Suzuki Cup, so early this year, I told coach to fly to Europe and get in touch personally with the players," Dan said.

But it wasn't just the work of Dooley that got these guys on board. Graeme Mackinnon, the former Cebu-based coach, has been courting Ramsay, who plays in the A-League, for almost three years; Rob Gier made the initial contact with Woodland, who plays in England's League One; Rafa Garcia, the cousin of the Guirado brothers, contacted Patino again and Dan ironed things out with his agent.

Dan said he finally managed to convince Ramsay to suit up after talking with his father.

"But the decision was really Iain's and I think coach did a good job in convincing him and Stephan Palla as well," Dan said.

Who is Palla? He's got the most solid referral of all, from Austrian international David Alaba. He plays for Bayern Munich and was the youngest-ever player to play for Austria's senior team at 17. He's also half-Filipino and was the one who spotted Palla, who once played for Austria's national youth team. Woodland, too, is a former national youth team player of England, just like Etheridge.

Dooley has 10 days to get these guys to play together, and Dan says they know that time is a bit short.

"Coach feels that the 10 training sessions that we will have may not be ideal, but will be enough for high level players to understand the system," he said.

Let’s see what coach Dooley has up his sleeve in these 10 days.


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