Villaflor: Azkals and the Road to World Cup 2022


THE long journey to the World Cup 2022 in Doha, Qatar started June 6, 2019 among Asian Football Confederation national teams. Ten teams kicked off their qualification campaign on June 6, 2019 for the first round of qualification, while another two teams duke it out on June 7.

If you’re wondering why the Philippines isn’t playing any qualifying match yet, that’s because the Azkals automatically made it to the second round due to its AFC ranking.

According to the qualifying structure, the 12 teams ranked 35 to 46 in the AFC need to go through the first round. The six winners of the two-leg first round will then advance to the second round of qualification, where they will be drawn against teams ranked one to 34.

For the second round, there will be 40 teams in all that will be divided into eight groups of five teams that will play home-and-away round-robin matches. That means the Philippines will have to wait until July 17 to find out who their opponents will be.

But that’s no reason to be idle, so the Azkals are facing China in a Fifa international friendly match at Guangzhou Tianhe Stadium in Guangzhou Friday, June 7. A practice match with a local club will then follow this Sunday, June 9, in Guangdong Province.

Many in the Azkals “Team A” lineup that will play against China June 7 also saw action when the two teams last met at the Asian Cup last January, when the latter emerged winners 3-0.

They are Stephan Schrock, Alvaro Silva, Luke Woodland, Daisuke Sato, Stephan Palla, Kevin Ingreso, Patrick Reichelt, Javier Patiño, Mike Ott, Jovan Bedic, Curt Dizon, Amani Aguinaldo and Michael Falkesgaard. Two players also have rejoined the team: goalkeeper Patrick Deyto and defender Marco Casambre. Joining them are two new names: goalkeeper Bernd Schipmann and midfielder Christian Rontini. Schipmann plays for German club Rot Weiss Ahlen, while Rontini plys his trade for Italian side ASD Sangiovannesse 1927.

The Younghusband brothers, defender Carli de Murga, midfielder Manny Ott, and forward Iaian Ramsay, among other players, are missing from the lineup. On the other hand, according to the Philippine Football Federation website, several foreign-based players were invited for the training camp that started days ago. From what I’ve heard some of these young guns added crucial pace to an otherwise speed-challenged team.

It would be interesting to see how the friendly against China would turn out, considering that despite the 3-0 loss the last time, the Philippines didn’t fair poorly at all against a far stronger opponent.

Although they significantly had more attempts in that match, China only slightly edged the Azkals in terms of possession: 55 percent to 45 percent.

These numbers suggest that the Azkals can actually hold its own against the giants of Asia.

Now, if only they can just pull the trigger and actually hit the mark when they need to.

And from what I’ve heard, the Azkals’ performance in these areas during training camp looked rather promising.


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