Only four countries in Asia will qualify for the World Cup Finals in 2018 in Russia and Azkals manager Dan Palami called the Philippine national football team’s chances as “promising.”
Palami is hoping that “everything would fall in place” for the Philippine national football team to make it to the world’s largest international team sport competition.
“It’s a tall order for us to make the third round, especially with our group that includes some very strong teams. But the team (Azkals) got off to a good start with two wins and the performance was also very satisfying, so it’s really promising,” Palami said.
The Philippine Team, recently described by a FIFA.com article as "fast-progressing," beat Bahrain for the first time, 2-1, at the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bocaue, Bulacan, last June 11 then trounced Yemen, 2-0, on the road last June 16. It will face tough Uzbekistan on Sept. 8 at the Philippine Sports Stadium.
Palami cited teams like South Korea, Japan and Australia and Middle East squads such as the United Arab Emirates, Iran and Iraq as powerhouses in Asia, one of the six FIFA continental zones where the qualifying rounds are being held. The other zones are Europe, North and Central America and Caribbean, South America, Africa, and Oceania.
From a large field of over 200 countries, the ongoing qualifying process will reduce the competition to just 32 countries for the World Cup Finals.
“These Asian teams are always expected to figure prominently in the qualifiers,” said Palami.
He admitted there’s plenty of work ahead “and we need some luck along the way to make the next round.”
“But, as they say, anything’s possible,” he added.
In the present Group H where the Philippines is bracketed, Uzbekistan is the top seed but it lost to North Korea last June 16, “so that makes North Korea a favorite in our group as well, ” Palami said.
The Philippine Azkals will face North Korea on Oct. 8 this year in its capital Pyongyang, one of three remaining games in the ongoing qualifying round scheduled to be played outside of Manila.
Palami said the present team has a nice mix of veteran and young players “who seemed to have adjusted to coach Thomas Dooley’s system.”
“We are not only winning but playing good football as well. It’s a team that the country can be proud of, which is what I always wanted to form,” said Palami, who is in charge of recruiting players.
Among the Asian countries, South Korea and Japan have the most number of World Cup appearances. South Korea has nine World Cup appearances, finishing 4th in 2002, its best ever, while Japan has five appearances.
Iran, Saudi Arabia and Australia have four World Cup appearances each, while Indonesia, Israel, Kuwait, Iraq, United Arab Emirates and the People’s Republic of China have one World Cup appearance each.
Tickets for the Azkals vs. Uzbekistan game to be held at the Philippine Sports Stadium on September 8, 2015 are now available at www.ticketworld.com.ph. Tickets are at P531.80 for Price Zone 1, P331.14 for Price Zone 2 and P125.40 for Price Zone 3.