The Philippine Azkals wouldn’t mind dealing with the possibility of playing matches during the holiday season as long as they could give themselves a huge chance of winning the AFF Suzuki Cup for the first time.
A semifinal appearance in the pandemic-delayed competition that will be held in Singapore will put the Azkals in a situation of playing the two-legged semifinals during the period of Dec. 22 to 26.
And if coach Scott Cooper’s side can find a way to end a string of semis defeats and advance to the finals of Southeast Asia’s biggest football competition, the Azkals will play the first leg on Dec. 29 and the return match on New Year’s Day 2022.
Cooper understands the sacrifice that comes with the job, which is why he urged the team to use it as motivation to give local football fans a fitting present.
“Part of the nature of football is you’re not always going to be home so for me, it’s a challenge,” Cooper said during a virtual press conference organized by Tap DMV, which secured the rights to broadcast the Suzuki Cup through various platforms.
“But you know, of course I’m a big fan of Christmas and New Year and I like being around the family. And so if you’re going to be away from them at that time, then make it count. That’s why I say, let’s try and give everybody that extra Christmas present, you know, and enjoy ourselves.”
Naturalized player Bienvenido Marañon and veteran midfielder Martin Steuble will be among the 27 players who hope to remain in Singapore for the most wonderful time of the year.
“Christmas day is every year and playing for the Azkals is not every year, so I’m very, very happy to be here,” said Maranon, whose Suzuki Cup stint will be his first appearance for the Philippines.
“I would like to be here until Jan. 1 which means that we did something great,” he added.
Steuble, set for his fourth Suzuki Cup, said he was able to celebrate Christmas in advance with his family before shifting his focus on the task at hand.
“I think it’s not too bad to spend some time playing football for the Azkals,” Steuble said. “Besides that, I was lucky enough to spend a few days to see my family. But now, the full focus is on football and on the Azkals.”