The Philippine national men’s football team will be facing a tough hurdle in its quest for football supremacy in Southeast Asia after being drawn with the region’s top teams in the upcoming 2012 ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup.
After the tournament draw at Bangkok, Thailand Wednesday afternoon, the Azkals found themselves clashing with traditional football powerhouses Vietnam and Thailand, the two best teams in the region based on the latest FIFA world rankings, as well as the champion of the tournament qualifiers in Group A.
Meanwhile, 2010 runner-ups Indonesia, Singapore, and defending champions Malaysia are drawn in Group B.
But Azkals team manager Dan Palami remains unfazed of the formidable opponents they will be battling.
“What else is new?” Palami said. “The team has gone through tough draws and tough situations on and off the pitch. We managed to overcome these situations.”
Palami said that the Azkals went through a more difficult path in the 2010 edition of the tournament, needing to compete first in the tournament qualifiers before getting a slot in the knockout stage. The nationals then made a Cinderella run to the semifinals, where they were forced to play their home game in Indonesia after the lack of proper football stadium in the country. They went on to lose to Indonesia in an aggregate score of 2-0.
Now that their opponents are already determined, Palami now wants to move on from the draw results and just focus on their preparations.
“We have wanted a different group,” Palami said. “(But) if the intention is to win the championship, it is imperative to prepare ourselves properly. We need to prepare whoever we are going against with.”
To complete the eight countries joining in the tournament, five countries – Cambodia, Timor Leste, Myanmar, Brunei Darussalam and Laos – still need to fight for two slots in the qualifiers in October. The Azkals are automatically seeded in the tournament after their semifinal finish in 2010.
To get past the group stages, the Azkals need to finish in the top two of the group to qualify in the two-legged semifinals, which will then adopt a home-and-away format. The nationals will face Thailand on Nov. 24, Vietnam on Nov. 27, and the top qualifier on Nov. 30.
Being the biggest football event in the region, the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup have been hailed as the World Cup of Southeast Asia, drawing millions of television viewers and live spectators every tournament, which is held every two years.
The 2012 Suzuki Cup will be co-hosted by Malaysia and Thailand from Nov. 24 to Dec. 22 and will be aired on AKTV.