MANILA (Updated) -- More than the athleticism and skills shown by the Philippine men’s football team in the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers, Azkals captain Rob Gier said it was teamwork that helped them reach the main stage of the tournament set in Maldives.
“I keep saying every time people say to me what's special about this team, it is team spirit. In a nutshell, you can see when you really have to run the extra half yard and you really have to tackle and you really have to clear the ball or put your body on the line. And if you're not friends, you don't do it but we done it today (Tuesday),” he said.
Europe-based players like Roland Müller and Stephan Schrock had to travel thousands of miles just to touch base with their fellow Azkals.
But even with only few days to assemble the squad for practices, Gier still observed some cohesiveness when they trampled Cambodia last Sunday and survived 2012 Challenge Cup runner-up Turkmenistan on Tuesday at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium for a sweep of the Group E matches.
He said newcomer Javier Patiño, who debuted with a brace in the game against Cambodia, played “like he has been with the team for years.”
Still, Azkals manager Dan Palami said the challenge is for the team to play more games together.
“[W]e could see that despite the talent that we have here, you need to have more games together so the players could actually get to know each other better in the pitch. That's what I saw lacking today. It will be how we'll play as a team that will win us the Challenge Cup,” he told reporters.
Philippine Football Federation president Mariano Araneta agreed, saying “if given the time to play together, I hope they can qualify for the (2015) Asian Cup.” (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)