WHEN Thomas Dooley came in a few years ago, replacing Michael Weiss, the hype surrounding the former US captain was so high that fans felt he was The One to take the team to new heights. There was the big gap in credentials between the former Bundesliga player and the former coach and of course, in his first major tournament, Dooley took the team all the way to the finals of the Challenge Cup, before falling short against Palestine.

Unfortunately, just last month, almost everyone was ready to see Dooley go, with the Azkals failing to advance out of the group stage the first time we hosted the tournament. There were some discontented souls in the team, too, who I learned no longer shared the same vision as Dooley.

Some Manila-based writers also shared their own opinion, off the record of course, of how they want a new coach for the Azkals but I always thought that if the PFF had any plans of replacing the coach, last December would have been perfect, since it would give the new coach enough time to prepare before the next big campaign, the Asian Cup qualifiers which starts in March.

The PFF is sticking with Dooley (who I hope isn't sticking Phil Younghusband at holding mid) because it doesn't make much sense to shop for coaches this late in the program. And I hope, that unlike in the last tournament, with all be singing songs for Dooley, not clamoring for his exit four games into the campaign.

I am actually hopeful for this qualifiers, more hopeful than that disastrous Suzuki Cup campaign that had us grouped with Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore. It's part of the Fifa calendar, so expect our missing stars like Javier Patino and Neil Etheridge to show up, unlike in the Suzuki Cup.

The Philippine is with Tajikistan, Nepal and Yemen and the top two teams will make it the Asian Cup and if Dooley takes the team all the way to the Asian Cup, that's a legacy that's going to be unmatched.

But of course, before we get way too ahead of ourselves, there's that first game against Nepal at home. Nepal won the Solidarity Cup last year, a tournament for the teams that lost early in the World Cup qualifiers. So Nepal's confidence is on a high, while the Azkals, whimpered at home the last time they saw action.

As first games go, this is as good as it can get for Dooley and the Azkals and I hope the coach and the team pass with flying colors. Otherwise, if we can't even beat Nepal, then it's time we shop for a new coach.