THE training camp the Azkals recently concluded has much positives to draw from.
Even with its 2-0 loss to China in a friendly in Guangzhou, the Azkals have shown it has narrowed the gulf in class between Asia’s powerhouse countries.
The reality is the Azkals zooming high up in the rankings and scalping the heads of giants won’t happen overnight.
Climbing up the rankings is going to be a slow, tedious process, especially since the opposition will be getting tougher as the team’s goals, expectations and aspirations go higher.
But there was a friendly match that was not as publicized as the China encounter: the 0-0 draw with Chinese Super League club Guangzhou Evergrande.
Although the format of the friendly was slightly different, having used three 30-minute intervals, the result is a significant one for the Azkals.
The 30-minute intervals allowed invitees to the Azkals camp a chance to perform against top caliber opposition.
Because that is what Guangzhou Evergrande happens to be: a top-caliber club. In fact, it’s not just a club, it’s a Chinese powerhouse that has won all Chinese Super League titles since 2011 except the 2018 season, when they finished runners-up. That makes seven Chinese Super League titles in all.
On top of that, Guangzhou has won two AFC Champions League titles: in 2013 and 2015. Such is Ghuangzhou’s pedigree that Forbes considers it the most valuable football club in China. No wonder it can afford a high-profile coach in World Cup winner Fabio Canavarro.
The Azkals having the opportunity to sharpen its claws against far superior opposition—whether national teams or clubs—is indeed a blessing. The learnings that Azkals Coach Scott Cooper and the players can draw from such encounters are just priceless.
Would we say the same of China and Guangzhou whether they would learn as much from the Azkals as much as the Azkals would learn from them?
The challenge now, of course, is to apply these learnings to actual competitive matches, particularly the upcoming World Cup 2022 Qualifiers for Asian Football Confederation members.
Having given a bye to the second round due to its ranking, the Azkals are eagerly awaiting the draw this coming July 17 to determine which group they’ll belong to and which four teams they will face in home-and-away round robin matches.
The second round roster is fast shaping up as all first round pairings over two legs have been decided, except for one match. The second round will see 40 teams divided into eight groups. Hopefully the Azkals benefit from a favorable draw and find themselves in a group where they will be far more competitive.
The last time the Azkals became the recipient of an unlucky draw was during the Asian Cup earlier this year, wherein they were grouped with much higher ranked teams South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, and, yes, China.
And we all know how that turned out.