Cooper stitching together Azkal pool for Suzuki Cup

Scott Cooper, the coach who some thinks should be sacked for the dismal U23 campaign, is serving as the glue for the Azkals’ challenging preparation for the Suzuki Cup. Pre-pandemic, the only consideration on players making the lineup was availability; under Covid-19, player availability is just one of the factors.

While teams like Myanmar are undergoing camp a month before the Suzuki Cup, the Azkals team management is still busy communicating with clubs, asking them to release players who could see action in Asia’s biennial tournament. One thing going against the team? The Suzuki Cup, Southeast Asia’s biggest tournament, isn’t part of the Fifa calendar.

COOPER TIME. Criticized by fans for a dismal showing in the U23 qualifiers, team management say Scott Cooper is the glue for the Azkals’ challenging Suzuki Cup preparation.

Players who will be released will also have to consider being away from family and friends during the Christmas and New Year since the Suzuki Cup will be played in a bubble. For the coaching and support staff, the sacrifice is a given and for those involved with the U23 preparations, they would spend more time in hotels than at home in the past three months.

Just recently, team management learned that Josh Grommen, who is excelling for Khon Kaen United in Thailand, won’t be released. The PFF has a tentative list, but that list will change come the Nov. 24 deadline due to the added challenges of the pandemic. And in this case,

what was the Philippines’ strength before–the fact that we can have players from all over the world–has become a weakness.

“Different countries have different regulations and of course, you have to make sure the players get home safely; so that means paying for their quarantine hotels in their home country. That could be seven days,10 days or 14 days,” said Dan Palami.

Aside from that, a player’s vaccination status has become a factor.

“That’s another added filter,” said Palami.

And with Singapore requiring visitors to have stayed at least 14 days in a country prior to visiting the city state, having the Azkals–who come from Southeast Asia or Europe–join a training camp in the Philippines won’t be possible. So team management will have everybody arriving from different destinations in Singapore by Dec. 2, just six days before the Philippines open its Suzuki Cup campaign against the host.

“We are counting on the fact that they have just been playing in their leagues, there’s no problem with match fitness. The only concern would be cohesion,” said Palami.

And this is where Cooper comes in.

The target is always the final, but at this point in time, we don’t know who will be in the squad, I can’t even make a prediction. We have to temper our expectation.

Dan Palami

“The good thing with Scott is his relationship with the clubs and coaches in Southeast Asia somehow help,” said Palami. “He is also constantly communicating with the players about the roles they are expected to play, so at least, the theoretical aspect is taken cared of, ang problema na lang ang cohesion.”

Though they are also looking at players in the PFL, Palami said management also has to consider the fact that players in the PFL have had only less than 12 games in two years, including the three for this year’s teams that reach the semifinals.

With so many challenges just making up a squad, will the Azkals shoot for a semifinal spot this year?

“The target is always the final but at this point in time, we don’t know who will be in the squad. I can’t even make a prediction. We have to temper our expectation,,” said Palami.

Though he understands the high standards some fans have, Palami said the team is hoping for some understanding, considering the challenges the PFF has to go through this year.

Mike T. Limpag
Mike T. Limpag

Mike T. Limpag has covered the Cebu sports scene for over 20 years, starting as an 18-year-old cub reporter for the Freeman in 1997 before moving to SunStar Cebu in 2001.

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