Philippine national football team head coach Thomas Dooley was delighted over the achievement of his squad for the past two years but reiterated that their work is far from over.
“We broke a lot of records in the last two years, but we are still far away from what I want to achieve with the team,” the 54-year-old American coach told The Manila Times in an interview.
He mentioned that after all the failures and achievements, he and his wards are now looking at a long-term goal.
“Boss Dan [Palami] and I met many times and talking about how can we get to the next level. We have a plan how it could work being a serious candidate to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar in 2022. It takes time and development.”
Dooley stressed that the development of homegrown players will be a vital factor in reaching their goal of being at par with Asian powerhouse teams.
“For the future, we need to develop more players here in the Philippines. Our international players are having a better knowledge of the game, they are in training everyday with very competitive players and being in a more professional environment than our players here in the Philippines.”
Since his appointment in February 2014, the former skipper of the United States of America national football team has already steered the Azkals to a handful of achievements.
In his first few months, Dooley helped the Azkals reach the finals of the 2014 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup only to be defeated by Palestine by a solitary goal.
Dooley’s first year with the Azkals saw two more major defeats: in the 2014 Philippine Peace Cup finals against Myanmar and in the group stage of the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup.
Dooley said that he still sees the team’s consecutive defeats in 2014 as a part of the process of rebuilding and that it brings experience to the players.
“In my first year it was more like bringing the [quality]of Philippine-based player closer to that of international players and starting playing organized football. I think we accomplished that. We were always very close to reach the biggest success for Philippine football.”
Dooley’s second year, 2015, brought in more promise as his new system started to yield positive results.
“In the second year, we changed the system and I’m also very happy the way the team adopted the change. You have to consider that we really don’t have enough time to work on the details and we have to use meetings to understand the way this is being played.”
“Development takes time and you could also see the German coach needed six-plus years to win a cup. Almost the whole year we played World Cup qualification games and we are in the strongest group. That obviously doesn’t make it easy to be successful. But overall again, with the circumstances we had, I’m sure the team gave everything they could on the field,” he explained.
The Azkals, who were drawn in Group H, notched consecutive wins in the opening games of the joint 2018 FIFA World Cup and 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers in June of 2015, beating Bahrain, 2-1, in their new home stadium in Bulacan before edging Yemen, 2-0, in Qatar.
Following the historic two wins of the Philippines in a World Cup qualifier, the team clinched their highest ever spot in FIFA rankings on July at 124—a feat compared to the team’s 195 in 2006.
“The wins against Bahrain and against Yemen [were our biggest achievement this year]. Bahrain because they were way ahead of us in the rankings and we were leading until three minutes overtime. Yemen, because it is also a strong team and we dominated the whole game in Qatar.”
He attributes the wins against Bahrain and Yemen to their preparation leading to the start of the competition¬.
“The preparation was good. We had enough time to work with the players and they were fresh. Everything worked out well. The focus from every player was at the right place. Everybody was excited for the start.”
Dooley also said that the success of the Azkals in the qualification stage of the tourney was a result of the new system they used,
“I think the foundation made it happen because of the way the team adopted the systems and the style of play. We try to play organized football and keep possession, trying to play with less contacts and creating chances not just dumping the ball somewhere and trying to create something with power.”
In 2015, the Azkals’ lineup was augmented with the addition of Luke Woodland, Stephan Palla, Iaian Ramsey, Kevin Ingreso as well as the return of Javier Patino, Stephan Schrock and Neil Etheridge.
However, the Azkals coach said that he does not credit their accomplishment to the arrival of the new players.
In contrast to their success in the early games of the joint qualifier, the Azkals suffered setbacks in the succeeding matches.
The Philippines, in their last four games against Uzbekistan, North Korea, Bahrain and Yemen, was only able to tally a point following three losses and a draw in four games resulting in their exit in the World Cup qualifier.
“There was one reason [why we lost, and its our]preparation. Like in the Suzuki Cup, the preparation was everything else but good. Like I always say, they are more important than the games,” Dooley said.
But the coach affirmed that he is still positive that the Azkals will make it to the Asian Cup in 2019.
“I still believe we can accomplish that [entering the Asian Cup], but everything has to be right and you need a little bit of luck. When you work hard and be organized, luck will be on your side. A point against UZB would be a big surprise and a win can be done against North Korea but like I said everything has to be perfect,” he concluded.
The Azkals will start 2016 by playing their last two games in the joint qualifiers as they face Uzbekistan in Tashkent on March 24 before facing the North Koreans in Manila on March 29.