The Philippine Under-23 national football team will face a daunting task in the coming Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U23 Championship qualification round set to kick off on July.
The young Azkals have been drawn in a tough group, joining Asian powerhouse nations Japan and China and progressing Southeast Asian side Cambodia in the preliminary round in Group J.
A total of 40 Asian nations will be vying for the 16 slots in the final competition that will be held in China next year.
Only the top two teams in each group will advance to the next round, meaning the Philippines needs to pull off an upset over Japan or China and takes care of its business against Cambodia.
The Young Azkals will first meet Japan on July 19, then China on July 21 and round up its first-round campaign against Cambodia on July 23.
In 2016, the U23 PH squad bombed out of the competition in Group G after losing three matches to finish last in the group.
The Young Azkals have started their preparation for this tournament as early as last year with the coming Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia also in sight.
The squad will be holding a six-day training camp in Bahrain beginning Friday. They are scheduled to play the Bahraini U23 team for back-to-back friendlies on March 24 and 26 at the Khalifa Stadium.