MANILA, Philippines—With three former champions in their group, the odds will be stacked against the Philippine Azkals in the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup kicking off this Friday in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Azkals coach Michael Weiss admitted that his team will go into the tournament that serves as a qualifier for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup as heavy underdogs.
“We have a very tough group,” Weiss said in an interview with Kathmandu-based website Goalnepal.com.
“Tajikistan, India and our first opponent, North Korea, are all three past winners. I think we’re the underdogs but we will give them a hard fight and that’s for sure.”
North Korea, a qualifier in the 2010 World Cup, will be the Azkals’ first assignment on Friday. Only the top two teams from the group will advance to the semifinals.
The Philippines is the only team in the eight-team main tournament that had gone through the prequalifying stage, where it beat Mongolia last year.
Weiss said he is more focused on his squad’s current form rather than the pedigree of their foes.
The Azkals are coming off a 1-1 draw with Malaysia in a friendly last Wednesday. They also played three matches in the Middle East against the Olympic teams of Australia and Uzbekistan and a club team in Qatar, winning once and losing twice.
“Mostly, we focus on our own system and we’ve refined that in the last couple of weeks and so we have a very good picture of how we want to play,” said Weiss.
“That’s more important than to look at your opponent.”
The Azkals have reverted to a more direct, counter-attacking style, an approach that worked well in their historic run to the 2010 Suzuki Cup semifinals.
“We’re in good shape, we’re very positive and we have super spirit,” said Weiss. “We had a very nice camp in Dubai and the match against Malaysia were all good signs.”
James Younghusband, who captained the Azkals in the 1-1 draw against Malaysia, also expressed satisfaction over the team’s buildup in Nepal.
Younghusband made the pronouncement even as two of his teammates—Lexton Moy and Angel Guirado—are facing a sexual harassment complaint before the AFC disciplinary committee for their conduct prior to the match against Malaysia.
Former Philippine Olympic Committee president Cristy Ramos filed the complaint, saying she felt disrespected when Moy joked about the size of her brassier while Guirado was wearing only his briefs when she, as match commissioner, conducted the prematch inspection.
“Preparations for the AFC Challenge Cup are going well. Shame that there are people back home trying to bring football down,” Younghusband said on Twitter.
Ramos actually took Younghusband, as captain, to task for not taking action when the incident inside the Azkals’ dugout happened.
A former women’s football standout herself, Ramos drew strong support from Sen. Pia Cayetano, who pushed for an immediate and independent probe on the incident by sports officials.
“Sexual harassment must not be tolerated anytime, anywhere,” said Cayetano, chair of the Senate Committee on Youth, Women and Family Relations. “Such acts should not go unpunished.”
“I call for the immediate investigation of this incident..not only because this is a serious allegation made by match commissioner Cristy Ramos, who is a sports official, but also because the Azkals are looked up to by the youth as modern-day heroes and role models.”
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