The Philippine national men’s football team may have fell short of its dream to make it to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil after losing its qualifier to Kuwait on Thursday, but Azkals fans won’t have to wait too long to see their idols back in action.
The Azkals are expected to take a short break before reconvening in August to train alongside the Philippine Under-23 squad that will be competing in the 2011 Southeast Asian Games. The team will use it as an opportunity to prepare for the four-nation Long Teng Cup in Taiwan in September, where the Azkals will compete alongside Hong Kong, Macau, and the hosts.
In 2010, the Philippine team used the Long Teng tourney as a springboard for its successful semifinal run in last year’s ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup, the competition that catapulted the Azkals to national prominence.
But beyond competing abroad, the Philippine Football Federation is also busy organizing dates for the popular football squad at home. PFF president Nonong Araneta told InterAKTV that his organization is planning to stage a series of friendly events for the Azkals to be held late this year until March 2012, when the team is schedule to compete in the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup.
“These will be FIFA-sanctioned events, where national teams of other countries will compete against our very own national squad,” said Araneta in a telephone interview.
He added that the friendlies might be an opportunity for all the Azkals to play together in a single squad.
“Hindi natin magawang makumpleto sa mga major tournaments,” he said, referring to the absence of several stalwarts from the Azkals in crucial tournaments due to scheduling conflicts with their club teams. “This time, sa mga friendly events, we can test our mettle as we have a chance to be complete.”
But the attention of the PFF isn’t just focused on the Azkals. The federation is currently working on its grassroots development program in hope of tapping future national team members.
Araneta said the PFF has already identified key cities where the group will hold football seminars.
“We have identified 33 persons which will help conduct seminars in San Carlos City while several coaches were tapped to help out in Iloilo City,” he said. “For our Luzon plan, we have identified Baguio City while our target for Mindanao is Davao.”