Merry bunch of nomads doing Philippine football proud
“(It) was frustrating because I was going to make my debut at home in the Philippine Sports Arena in front of the home fans.”
The paperwork was processed in time for the Azkals’ second match against Yemen, which was played in Qatar.
“To wear the shirt for the first time out in Qatar was special,” he said. “The support we got out there was amazing and it was nice to see my mum’s sister came to watch.”
Surprisingly for a group with such a diverse background, Dooley claims there are very few communication problems.
“The first language in the Philippines is English so most people, well everyone actually, speaks English, so there is no barrier in communication with the players,” Dooley said.
That’s a relief for Woodland.
“Sometimes you will hear Spanish, German, Italian, Tagalog, but mostly English, thankfully. I am slowing learning Tagalog, hopefully I’ll be OK at it soon,” he joked.
“We are all family and each player’s background is good for the team, we all bring something different.”
The international fixtures double as qualifying for both the 2018 World Cup and the 2019 Asian Cup. The Azkals are off to the perfect start, picking up wins against Bahrain and Yemen in their opening two games.
But they know their toughest test will come in the next two matches, against Group H heavyweights Uzbekistan and North Korea.
“Uzbekistan and North Korea are both very strong sides, but so is everybody else in our group,” Woodland said. “We want to get a result in both of these games and pick up points to give us the best chance in qualifying for the Asian Cup and World Cup.”
Dooley, like any good coach, is only focused on Uzbekistan and how his team performs.
“We want to play our game knowing the weaknesses and strengths of our opponent and as long as we work together and work as a team, then we will be successful,” he said.
He also cautioned the players from looking too far ahead and dreaming of potential Asian Cup qualification at the end of this second round.
“The motivation for the players is to get another result and have a feeling like they had after the Bahrain game, a feeling like they had after the Yemen game,” he said.
“If we think about the Asian Cup, that’s another six games away. That’s too far ahead.”
So the focus remains solely on Uzbekistan, who are ranked 76th by FIFA, Asia’s sixth highest nation and 49 above the Philippines. But in front of what Dooley hopes is a big and parochial home crowd, these Azkals know anything is possible.
Photo: AFF Suzuki Cup Facebook