The Philippine Azkals Dream Team

The Philippine national football team which is also known as the Azkals seem to keep on getting better and better and just recently they pulled out another milestone as they made it into the main tournament of the AFC Challenge Cup next year by finishing second on its group behind Palestine by collecting a win and a pair of draws in Aung San Stadium in Rangoon, Myanmar.

Needing a win to stave off outright elimination in the group stage of the AFC Challenge Cup against upset conscious Bangladesh, the unyielding Azkals out of nowhere find there rhythm and fierce finding form on time to score a lopsided 3-0 win. The Bangladesh side scored a stunning reversal over favored host Myanmar in the second day of action and just needs at least a draw over the Philippines to advance into the next stage.

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But the gritty Filipinos will not balk down from their match against the Bangladeshi Bengals, as Ian Araneta which was not performing well for the past few games finally summoned his old self as he scored a witty goal in the first half to hand the Azkals the lead 1-0.

Prized-find Filipino-Spanish striker Angel Guirado meanwhile took over in the second half as he scored two goals to give the Philippines an unassailable 3-0 lead.

The Philippines which is looking for a scorer since its top gunner Phil Younghusband is hampered with a hamstring injury finally find what it is looking for in Araneta and Guirado.

The Philippines’ rousing win over Bangladesh help them secure five points on 1 win 2 draws slate. Palestine the surprise package in the tournament lived up to its billing as the dark horse among the competing teams by topping the group with 7 points on 2 wins and 1 draw. Bangladesh was stacked at three points with 1 win and 2 losses and Myanmar scored just a point on 1 draw and 2 losses record. Both Bangladesh and Myanmar are now eliminated from the tournament. The Philippines earlier drew its games against Myanmar 1-1 and Palestine 0-0.

This is the first time that the Philippines is advancing into the next round. Last year the Philippines created a stir in Asian football by making it to the semi-final round of the Suzuki Cup and stunned defending champion and host Vietnam.

Now that the assignments of the Azkals become tougher and tougher, a Dream Team Azkals is being mulled in the country and if ever this is realized a more formidable Philippine soccer team will be formed which is a perfect fit for the forthcoming 2014 World Cup qualifiers that will be staged in Brazil.

New recruits Guirado one of the two heroes in the 3-0 demolition of Bangladesh and Jerry Lucena signified their intention of helping the team on its bid. Guirado will form a formidable 1-2 punch with Phil Younghusband in the offensive end. Younghusband’s pulled hamstring which he sustained in a game against Mongolia last February 15, 2011, is expected to be back in action in three weeks time.

Defenders Rob Geir, Ray Johnnson, and team captain Alexander Borromeo will do their usual job on the team which is handcuffing the opponent’s scorers.

Midfielders James Younghusband, Jason de Jong, Chieffy Caligdong and Chris Greatwitch will provide the scoring opportunities for the Azkals with their smart plays and passes.

Goalkeeper Neil Etheridge is also expected to foil the enemy's opponents and shatter the confidence of the opposing team's strikers.

With the possible addition of more recruits like Filipino-German Stefan Schrock and Filipino-Danish Dennis Cagara and the brother tandem of Filipino-Canadians Jonathan and Julian de Guzman, the Azkals team’s bench is expected to become deeper and fiercer.

The Azkals will compete in the World Cup qualifiers on June 29, 2011. Also entered in the first round of the qualifiers are Malaysia, Laos, Myanmar, Chinese-Taipe, Macau, Timor Leste, Palestine, Pakistan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Cambodia and Afghanistan.

The Philippines is performing just 60 percent of its full potential according to the German Azkals coach Michael Weiss. But with the series of players coming from all over the globe to play for Azkals, soon enough the Philippines will be able to field its strongest team and lets see how they fare well as they will be pitted with the top football teams in Asia.

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