REGARDLESS of last night’s semifinal result in the 2018 Bangabandhu Cup, it’s apparent that Azkals head coach Scott Cooper is the right man for the job.
Bringing a “B” team to an international competition and racking up two straight wins in the group stage against first teams is a reassuring feat.
After an astonishing 3-1 beatdown of Laos, even more impressive was pulling off a 1-0 win against hosts Bangladesh, which had no intention of losing the match with its rough, determined play.
Hopefully, the Azkals sneaked past semifinal foe Tajikistan, which was out for revenge after the Philippines “A” eliminated them from the AFC Asian Cup 2019 qualifiers last March in Manila. If not, the Azkals B can return home with heads held up high.
Either way, these are small victories worth celebrating and good reasons to be optimistic about.
Seeing this team is refreshing: relatively new faces gelling smoothly with the veterans.
To assemble a team this cohesive in such a short time requires a special kind of coaching nous, one that Cooper possesses.
Take note that he was appointed as interim senior team adviser only last June, alongside then newly appointed head coach Terry Butcher.
Problem is, Butcher had little belief in the team he was handling, and, according to a BBC report, said “he does not believe the right system is in place for the country to be successful.”
Following Butcher’s “shocking” departure, Cooper was given the mantle as interim head coach of the Azkals, and immediately got down to business.
Last August, the Philippine Football Federation officially named Cooper as regular head coach.
The challenges that lie before Cooper, assistants Andres Gonzales and Randolfo Clarino, and the Azkals are daunting. They have roughly a month to prepare for the AFF Suzuki Cup 2018 that kicks off on November 8.
With a new format that lets each team play two home and two away fixtures in the group stages, the Azkals will first see action at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City against Singapore on November 13.
With yet a bigger tournament looming this January — the AFC Asian Cup 2019, the question is which team Cooper will send to the Suzuki Cup: this Azkals B team with reinforcements from Azkals A regulars, or the Azkals A with back up from Azkals B standouts?
Ah, the tough choices football coaches have to make.