Seventeen months since their last game, the Philippine Azkals resume their search for qualifying slots to 2022 FIFA World Cup and the Asian Cup.
But the Philippine national men’s football team will have to do its preparations outside of the country.
The Azkals will fly out to Doha, Qatar for a two-week training bubble and a series of friendly matches.
The training bubble will happen before the Azkals play their last three games in Group A of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification’s second round this June at Suzhou Olympic Sports Centre in Suzhou, China.
“We are on the brink of another exciting time in Philippine football as we compete in the World Cup and the Asian Cup qualifiers,” said team manager Dan Palami.
The Azkals, whose many veteran players have retired, last saw action on Nov. 19, 2019, losing to Syria, 0-1. The Syrians have already reached the third round with five straight wins, with China second with its 2-1-1 win-draw-loss record.
The Philippines is currently third at 2-1-2, assured of a place in the third round.
Since that game, many prominent members of the Azkals, including Phil and James Younghusband have retired. But the two are expected to be around as coach Scott Cooper continues his search to get new faces into the squad.
Cooper is set to bring in 26 players to Qatar.
Philippine Football Federation president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta said they made arrangements with the Qatar Football Association over the Azkals’ training bubble.
“It’s hard to train in the Philippines. And we have decided to do the training camp in Qatar. There are other teams that will be there,” said Araneta.
The Azkals had a long layoff because of travel restrictions imposed by many countries to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Team members were also unable to train since March last year because of strict health and safety protocols put up by the government.
Even with the Carmona field in Cavite available, football officials were still not able to get the needed go-signal from the Interagency Task Force for the Management of Infectious Diseases to do their workouts.
Araneta said the Azkals will be able to have friendlies with Maldives and Syria during the camp, slated from May 18 to 31 in Doha.
On the other hand, their games in Group A will begin on June 3 Guam.