IN case you were wondering, the Philippine National Men’s Football Team is alive.

The most recent news—a mindboggling one—is that the Azkals has moved up two places in the Fifa rankings, to 167th among 208 national football associations.

And I wonder: How in the world did that happen? How did the team manage to go up without playing any games in recent memory?

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Well, perhaps they did and the Filipino football community had no clue. Either that or two other teams fared so badly Fifa had no choice but to bump the Azkals up two notches.

But I’m not complaining, some movement is better than no movement at all.

The team’s handlers have successfully kept the team’s activities under the radar.

Its last friendly match against a foreign team was in January yet, when it faced Chinese Taipei and a collegiate squad.

Then just last week, at the height of the World Cup, it held a training camp in Tacloban, Leyte, and played against a club from Barotac Nuevo, according to a report from Filipinofootball.blogspot.com.

The team is under a new coach, the mysterious Englishman Des Bulpin, who signed an initial one-year deal with the equally mysterious Philippine Football Federation in November 2009.

“Bulpin helped develop England international Peter Crouch during his spell at Queens Park Rangers,” according to a report on vitalfootball.co.uk. He also handled the Uzbekistan Under-17 team for a time.”

I have yet to confirm if Bulpin is still actually connected with the team, but at least we’re aware that the Azkals are indeed preparing for something.

That something is a tournament in Southeast Asia later this year, which Azkal striker Chad Edward Alesna Gould revealed to me online, after I asked him whether he’s still with the RP Men’s team.

“Yes, we’re still connected with the Philippine national team.

We’ll be out in October for the Asean Cup qualifiers,” said the 27-year-old footballer born to an English father and Cebuana mother from Boljoon.

Gould, with a killer header, is the team’s leading scorer with six goals in 13 international matches, including games against Southeast Asian powerhouses Malaysia and Cambodia.

He is concurrently—yes, Fifa allows this—a rookie member of the English national beach soccer team, which is seeing action in Italy for the Beach Soccer Fifa World Cup 2011 Qualifiers.

With Gould pledging to report for duty for the Philippine team, it seems he’ll be joining familiar faces and a couple of new ones this October.

It would be difficult to tell how the Azkals have matured as a team, given the few occasions they have played together over the last two years.

I remember in an interview with Gould last year how he wished the team could play at least 10 friendly matches annually to transform the team into a really cohesive unit.

Right now, that doesn’t seem to be the case, so the Azkals just have to make do with what time and resources are at their disposal.

As for us Azkal fans, we’ll just have to keep expectations to a minimum. My high school batchmate RDV, though, is now campaigning for an Azkal qualification to the World Cup 2014 in Brazil.

Of course, he knows very well what a tremendous long shot that is, but this is the kind of fervor and wishful thinking that the national team begs of its Filipino supporters.

And with the October Asan qualifiers drawing to a close, the team needs all the support it deserves.

The Azkals are a capable squad, so capable that our neighbors now take them seriously.

That makes the task even tougher. But that’s how it is, and there just aren’t any shortcuts to becoming a football powerhouse in the region.

And let’s face it, to really move up in the world’s football hierarchy, we can’t rely all the time on rankings whose movements are shrouded in mystery.

(nsvillaflor@gmail.com)