Azkals aim to scale new heights in AFF Suzuki Cup

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The Philippine Azkals will have the opportunity to improve on their record at the ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup that had recently kicked-off their Qualifying Rounds early October in Bangkok, Thailand and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The Azkals reached the semi-finals in the 2010 edition, losing 2-0 on aggregate to Indonesia, but are seeking to overcome that hurdle when the tournament gets underway on November 24.

“There is much excitement as we send off the Azkals for this edition of the Suzuki Cup. Much hard work has been poured for the improvement at this semifinal appearance in 2012. Our country today proudly participates in the competition,” said Philippine Football Federation president Mariano Araneta Jr. Wednesday night at the November send-off dinner for the squad sponsored by Suzuki Philippines. “I hope they reach the semifinals again so they will have a home game. I am looking forward to that,” said Suzuki Philippines President Satoshi Uchida.

“Our opponents no longer consider us underdogs but the dark horse in the tournament. Everyone is expecting a hard fight from us and we have to live up to expectations as well, not only from our Filipino fans but also from the competition,” said Azkals team manager Dan Palami.

Their coach, German national Michael Weiss, has turned the Azkals from unknowns into a force to be reckoned with in international play, reaching an all-time high of 147th worldwide in the FIFA rankings, 21st in all of Asia, and 3rd in Southeast Asia behind Thailand and Vietnam. They are a blend of outstanding homegrown talent and Filipino players based in the US and Europe, some of whom have decided to play in the Philippines, adding bite to the Azkals’ arsenal for a more fluid and attack-oriented playing style that the German mentor prefers.

A year ago, the Filipino footballers became the first Philippine squad to reach the third round of the World Cup Asian qualifiers and attained another milestone last March in capturing the bronze medal in the AFC Challenge Cup in Kathmandu, Nepal. Striker Phil Younghusband, who plays for the Loyola Meralco Sparks, took home the Golden Boot with six goals in the competition. The Azkals ended a 99 year trophy drought by capturing the Philippine Peace Cup last September at Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.