Final score not important for Philippines in Dubai against Azerbaijan

The training camp in Dubai and those planned during the next few months in Qatar and Bahrain should act as important tune-ups for the new coach and to weigh down his side.

The Azkals return to the UAE after playing the UAE in a friendly in November on November 9 when they lost 3-0. Lee Hoagland / The National
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DUBAI // Thomas Dooley, the new coach of the Philippines national team, said that his side’s brief training camp in Dubai has provided the perfect opportunity to help ready the squad for the AFC Challenge Cup.

The German-American, who replaced Michael Weiss as manager last month, will get to assess his players in action on Wednesday night for only the second time, when the Philippines face Azerbaijan in a friendly at the Rashid bin Maktoum Stadium.

Dooley has spent the initial few weeks of his tenure evaluating the squad and has been pleasantly surprised by what he has inherited. He has insisted that last week’s performance in the 1-1 draw against Malaysia – his opening match as coach – has further strengthened the belief that the Philippines could excel at the Challenge Cup in May.

The training camp in Dubai and those planned during the next few months in Qatar and Bahrain, he said, should act as important tune-ups for the continental tournament, which offers to the winner a place at the 2015 Asian Cup.

While a 22-strong squad travelled to Malaysia, the UAE roster has been bolstered by those who play their club football outside the country, with the likes of Stephan Schrock, the Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder, joining the team in Dubai.

Understandably, Dooley sees the overseas-based players as integral to the Philippines’ ambitions of making the Asian Cup in Australia in January 2015.

“Slowly but surely, we’re putting a team together that we think is the future of the national team,” he said. “We have the international players with us this time and I needed to see them on this trip.

“Obviously they’re assets to the team – all great players – so they’ll actually lift up the team, too. Now they have to understand how we want to play, what specific role they have in the team and that they have to do the best they can. That’s something we wanted to achieve on this trip.”

After a promising draw with Malaysia, the Philippines, ranked 127th in the Fifa standings, expect a much more difficult assignment against Azerbaijan. Although ranked just inside Fifa’s top 100, Azerbaijan impressed throughout their recent qualification campaign for this summer’s World Cup; they finished fourth in a group containing Russia, Portugal and Israel.

Dooley, a former USA national team player who also served as assistant coach under Jurgen Klinsmann, acknowledged that Azerbaijan would offer a stiff test to his new-look Philippines.

“We hope to gain confidence against Azerbaijan, as they’re a much better team than Malaysia,” he said. “They’re stronger, faster and more experienced. So it will be a great challenge for us.

“But the final score is not important, what’s important is how we play. Obviously I want to win every game we compete in and I want to win against Azerbaijan as well. We have a chance against anybody. But it’s about how much the players believe that; how much they actually perform, and making fewer mistakes. From what I’ve seen so far, we’re on the right path.”

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