2019 Asian Cup: Sven-Goran Eriksson's New Year wish to grow interest in football in Philippines

The Swede targets knockout stages for his side at the tournament in the UAE that starts on January 5

Philippine national team head coach Sven-Goran Eriksson talks to the national soccer team, commonly known as the Azkals, before the start of a training in Cavite, Philippines November 6, 2018. Picture taken November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Erik De Castro - RC1803CC9D80
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Sven-Goran Eriksson has a particular New Year resolution in mind with the 2019 Asian Cup in the UAE only days away.

His goal is to make the Philippines, traditionally a nation more enthusiastic about basketball, turn some of that attention towards their national football team.

The Philippines will compete at the Asian Cup, which starts on Saturday, for the first time in their history and Eriksson hopes this can be the catalyst for football to become much more popular within the country.

“I think at this Asian Cup, with this generation of players, the Philippines have the chance to show that football is good in the Philippines and qualifying for the Asian Cup will help,” said Eriksson, whose team have been drawn in Group C alongside South Korea, China and Kyrgyzstan. “If we can go through [to the knockout stages] that will mean a lot for the country.


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The Swede, who took England to two World Cups and includes among the clubs he has managed Manchester City, Lazio, Benfica, and Sampdoria, said it was a recent news conference before the AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final defeat to Vietnam that highlighted the work he faces to change the culture in the country when it comes to football.

“It was amazing to see before our last game, when we played against Vietnam in Bacolod, at the press conference there were 60 or 70 people and I would guess five or six were from the Philippines and 50 from Vietnam," Eriksson said.

"So you see the difference, the interest in the game. Changing habits takes time. Whatever habit it is, it’s not easy.”

Eriksson signed a six-month contract with the Philippines having been appointed to the role in October following the resignation of former England defender Terry Butcher in August, who left without even overseeing one match in charge.

At the upcoming Asian Cup, the match with China will hold particular personal interest given the Chinese are led by Marcello Lippi, one of Eriksson's rival managers when he coached in Italy in the 1990s.

The 70-year-old sees as that match, on January 11 in Abu Dhabi, as crucial to the Philippines’ prospects, with the South Koreans expected to dominate the group.

"It’s a tough group, of course it is," Eriksson said. "The second game against China will be like a final.”

The Philippines begin their campaign on Monday against South Korea, with their final game against Kyrgyzstan on January 16. Both matches take place in Dubai.

Understandably, Eriksson is excited about guiding the Philippines through their first Asian Cup, but is realistic on just what they can achieve in the UAE.

“The Asian Cup is a huge tournament, like the Euros for us Europeans,” he said. “It’s the biggest there is if you take away the World Cup. For the Philippines, it’s the first time ever, so that’s great and of course we are looking forward to it.

“The Philippines have to go in with one target: to go through, to go further. That’s not easy but if you can do that, that’s good. Then everything depends on what’s happening.

"We have to have that target if we go to the tournament. We can’t just go and be happy that we are there. Yes, we’re happy but that’s not enough. We have to try to go through.”