By Cedelf P. Tupas (Philippine Daily Inquirer)
MANILA, Philippines—The Under-23 Philippine Azkals may have landed in the weaker group of the Southeast Asian Games football competition, but that doesn’t mean making the semifinals for the first time in 20 years will be a cakewalk for the national squad in Indonesia.
The Filipinos face Vietnam on November 3 at the start of Group B action at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta.
Also in the Azkals’ group are Myanmar, Laos, Timor Leste and Brunei.
“A lot of people think that it’s seemingly easy,” said Palami of their bracket. “I think what we should realize is that teams like Timor and Laos have actually built very good youth programs for the past few years.”
Azkals coach Michael Weiss echoed Palami’s sentiment, saying that the draw only looks “favorable” at first sight.
“We cannot just thrash Laos and Myanmar like there’s no tomorrow,” Weiss said.
“The first match will determine where we will go. I hope we can play with a compact and aggressive style against Vietnam.”
The Philippines will actually be seeing action in the SEA Games football competition for the first time since 2005 when it won one match and lost two games.
The country has not reached the semifinals of the event since 1991 when the biennial meet was held in Manila.
Palami said they are still working on including goalkeeper Neil Etheridge on the SEA Games squad, after the Filipino-British goalkeeper was omitted from the initial list over doubts of his availability for the tournament.