26 March 2014

The 2015 Asian Cup Draw and the Azkals’ Incentive to Qualify

It does seem a tad forbidding, does it not, if the Philippines do win the Challenge Cup and thus qualify for the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia? Not to count the chickens, but the Group D slot reserved for the Challenge Cup winners does, indeed, appear not just a bit on the side of unnerving.

Japan. Jordan. Iraq.

On the other hand, a quick scan of the other three groups immediately shows that any of these may also well be the proverbial fire from off the pan. After all, the qualified countries, when you come to think about it, are the continent’s elite; or, at least, in footballing terms.

But what is the big fuss about? If we do win the Challenge Cup, then we will be arriving Down Undah as rank outsiders, anyway. What is there to lose? On the contrary, there is everything to gain.

If anyone is wary about our team being blown away by the opposition, did we not all think the same on the eve of the Azerbaijan friendly? After Azerbaijan, are Japan, Jordan and Iraq really all that frightening?


And even if we do lose to all three teams in Group D, did Manny Pacquiao not lose, after all, to a certain Rustico Torrecampo? No, we are nor related; and yes, Pacquiao probably needed to lose that one to get to where he is now.
If we get to Australia, our team will be playing eleven men each time; not their nations’ footballing reputations. Reputations do not play football; men do. And eleven versus eleven with the proverbial round ball, who really knows?

If it is any comfort, India arrived at the 2011 Asian Cup in Qatar also as rank outsiders. 0-4 to the Aussies, 2-5 to Bahrain and 1-4 to Korea Republic were no reason for declaring a holiday in Bombay.

That said, none of the scores were disgraceful, either. If anything, the Indians won much respect and admiration for their bravery. And – this is just being me – I would like to think that our current team, if at full-strength, is reasonably better than the Indians were in 2011.

Perhaps only the demented among us will really even be pondering our team’s chances of bringing home the Asian Cup. Short of the Apostles coming down with Divine Blessings to wear the royal blue kit of the Azkals, we will not win the Asian Cup.

Therefore, if at all we do qualify, what will make the experience worth the bother will be the valuable insights that each match will provide about where we stand in Asian football. There is wisdom, after all, in knowing how far ahead the oppositions are if one harbours ambitions of overtaking them.

It is therefore best to think of the Asian Cup as yet another landmark in the development of Philippine football. Japan, Korea Republic and the Aussies have in recent years been regular fixtures of the World Cup and rub elbows every now and again with the world’s elite football countries.

Suffice it to say that this was not always so. In fact, I have recollections of World Cup matches in the old days featuring European and South American teams against the Asian qualifiers which were regarded as mild annoyances.

The Asian upstarts were skilful but lacked physique and were tactically naïve, the Europeans and South Americans sniffed.

Look how far the upstarts have come.

The Asian Cup, therefore, should be looked upon exactly as what it will be for the Azkals – a learning experience. Thomas Dooley will have his work cut out for him because the opponents will be fitter, wilier and more experienced.

Because running home to Mama is not an option, what is there to do but roll up one’s sleeves and get ready for a fight? This, we all saw against Azerbaijan, the Azkals can do!

And even if we do lose to all three teams in Group D, did Manny Pacquiao not lose, after all, to a certain Rustico Torrecampo? No, we are nor related; and yes, Pacquiao probably needed to lose that one to get to where he is now.

But are we not all shamelessly counting the chickens? First, the Challenge Cup please Mr. Dooley!

The full 2015 Asian Cup Draw:

Group A: Australia, Korea Republic, Oman Kuwait

Group B: Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, China PR, Korea DPR

Group C: Iran, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain

Group D: Japan, Jordan, Iraq, Challenge Cup Winners

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