The Philippines National Football team came into the fixture as the 3rd best ranked team in ASEAN, 32 spots higher than hosts Singapore, but the lack of preparation and match fitness showed as the Azkals we’re beaten 2-1 by the Lions. Goals by Harris Harrun and Faris Ramli gave the hosts the edge with the Azkal’s Amin Nazari pulling one back.
The lack of preparation and the late start of the PFL prove costly.
The Covid pandemic has hit the world hard but an argument can be said that the Philippines is one of the hardest hit. 14 of the Azkals 24 man lineup all play in the Philippines’ domestic league, the PFL. The league has yet to officially start, with last month’s Copa Paulino Alcantara as the only source of action for domestic based players after more than a year of inaction. It is by no means the fault of the league on it’s own, with the country’s confusing Covid guidelines giving sporting officials a hard time to restart their leagues.
On paper, the Philippines look as strong as any team in ASEAN, but with almost half the lineup new to the program and a number of key players withdrawing due to injuries and travel restrictions, not holding camp sooner to get the players familiar with each other is a recipe for disaster.
It’s not all gloom and doom.
The Azkals come into the tournament as Dark Horses to win the tournament, having been Semifinalists in the past four editions. The quality of the side was evident throughout the game, specially in the second half with the team being a little bit more familiar with each other. Old reliables Patrick Reichelt, Amani Aguinaldo, and Daisuke Sato showed that they still have what it takes to go toe to toe with the best in the region. New boy Oskari Kekkonen showed promise but highly rated Oliver Bias could have done better. An emphatic win against a young Timor-Leste side on December 11 will do wonders to give the team confidence to get their campaign back on track.