Philippine Azkals head coach Thomas Dooley is optimistic that 2017 will be a better year for his wards.
“I think we had overall a good year. It could have been better yes, but with all the circumstances the players had to go through, I think it was a great year. Everything happens for a reason,” Dooley told The Manila Times pertaining to the Azkals’ 2016 performance.
The year began positively for the Azkals with their success in the joint FIFA World Cup and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup qualifiers. The Philippines finished third in Group H with a record of three wins, a draw and four losses, following first seed Uzbekistan and second placer North Korea.
The highlight of their campaign was their stunning 3-2 victory over the higher-ranked North Korea in the final game of the second round in March.
“Since I’m here in the Philippines I’m convinced the team is improving year by year. Nothing comes overnight and it will take time. We could have even been better in the rankings in my opinion,” Dooley said.
Their feat resulted in a higher FIFA ranking at No. 115 in May 2016 – their highest-ever in the international stage.
However, Dooley lamented their failure to schedule friendly matches in June.
“With a little bit of luck, or If we would have played games in June, we could have taken advantage of the momentum and could have moved up more,” he said.
After the team’s success in the continental qualifiers, the Azkals played several tune-up matches before competing in the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup in November.
The Azkals lost to Australian club Perth Glory FC 0-2 in a second-tier international friendly at the Quirino Stadium in Bantay, Ilocos Sur in July.
The team played four more exhibition matches that served as their preparation for the biennial Southeast Asian Championship.
The Azkals won 2-1 over Kyrgyzstan in the latter’s home turf in Bishkek in September before losing two consecutive games against Bahrain, 1-3, and North Korea, 1-3.
With just a few days remaining before their main tournament, the Azkals notched a 1-0 win over Kyrgyzstan in a friendly game in Manila.
“If we understand that there is a path to success and we would pay more attention to the details in the future, then I think it is a part of improving the quality of the team,” Dooley said on their shaky performance before the Suzuki Cup.
The Azkals absorbed their biggest blow of the year after crashing out of the preliminary round of the Suzuki Cup for the first time since 2010.
“We didn’t fail. The expectation to win the Suzuki Cup was not real. With all the circumstances, it would have been a huge success to get out of the group. I know it is hard to believe but the people don’t know everything,” Dooley said.
The Azkals failed to post a victory in three matches in Group A, in front of their compatriots at the Philippines Sports Stadium in Bulacan.
The Filipinos elicited a scoreless draw from Singapore in their opening match. The Azkals’ match against Indonesia also ended in a draw, 2-2, before being defeated by eventual champion Thailand, 0-1.
“For me the players did an excellent job. You guys are talking about we have a home field advantage. We played only two to three games there, we play in front of our fans which had only two to four thousand people,” Dooley said.
Dooley said that he hopes to instill a better culture among his wards this year.
“I hope that we can take care of the important details. If we can’t do that, it is obvious that it would be very difficult to be successful. Enough time to prepare, enough time for training with the right equipment and discipline,” he concluded.