THE Asean Football Federation announced a change in the format of the Suzuki Cup--the tournament where the Philippines had its breakthrough in 2010--and it’s a change that could benefit the Azkals.
Before, the final round of the Suzuki Cup had two countries hosting one group each, with the teams in that group facing each other in a single-round robin to determine which teams would advance to the semifinals, which is a home and away affair.
We advanced to three straight semifinals from 2010 to 2014 but got unceremoniously booted out at home when we hosted one group in 2016. One of the reasons is that some of our best players--Neil Etheridge, Javier Patino, Daisuke Sato--do not play in the AFF region and since the Suzuki Cup doesn’t fall on Fifa international days, their clubs won’t release them.
Yes, Etheridge played a part in the 2010 breakthrough but that was when he was still with the Fulham reserves, and playing international football was a way for him to gain experience. These days, the Cardiff City custodian only get to play for the country in qualifiers, but not in the Suzuki Cup.
But starting in 2018, the AFF will do away with the usual group stage but teams in the five-team group will play two home and two away matches between Nov. 8 and Dec. 15. The Fifa window for that time is Nov. 12 to 20, so we could have Etheridge, Sato and Patino in the group stage. Whether we’re going to have them in the semifinal stage is a question that would be a bit too presumptuous to answer at this point.
The new format also means that in the Suzuki Cup 2018, we will get to have at least two home matches and Panaad could be considered as host since there won’t be a need for a second stadium unlike in the old format. The CCSC, should it get a major makeover in 2018, could be considered a venue too but that’s wishful thinking.
One more thing, now that the AFF has announced the dates for the Suzuki Cup more than a year early, I hope the PFL will adjust its calendar too so that come November 2018, the Azkas who play in the domestic league won’t be too tired or won’t be too overstretched by too many club games.
After three straight semis appearance, the 2016 outing was a bit disappointing and I hope our fortunes will change in 2018.