By Ivan Geoffrey Gayares (@ivangeoffrey)
With an improving domestic league and 5 years after the Philippines resurgence in football, much is expected in the Azkals’ performance especially with the new World Cup qualifying format. The AFCs World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers will start this June and the draw for the group stages will happen in a few days time.
To give a quick recap, Asia’s top 40 teams have qualified for the second round, including the Philippines, and the groupings will be made up of eight groups of five teams. The forty teams will be divided into five pots where the highest ranked teams will be in Pot #1 and the lowest ranked will be in Pot #5. Based on the recent FIFA ranking, the Azkals are number 18th in the AFC and will be included in Pot #3.
AFC officials will then draw one ball from each pot to determine the group members of the eight groups. Since our pot is already known, we will now wait and see on who will we play against from the other pots. Here are the best and worst case scenarios that the Azkals can get in the second round draw.
Best Case Scenario
Pot 1: China (WR 82, AFC 7)
It will be tempting to pick #8 Iraq as the best case top seed opponent, but since they are Asian Cup winners for 2007, they should be avoided. This leaves us with no choice but to pick China. Though China is really strong with its good performances and domestic league, out best bet is to hope to draw the weaker of the top eight teams.
Pot 2: Vietnam (WR 125, AFC 14)
Vietnam recently beat the Azkals in the 2014 Suzuki Cup but the Philippine-squad have the better record in the last three matches. Though it will be troubly hard, the Azkals have no psychogical disadvantage against its fellow South East Asian team.
Pot 4: Bhutan (WR 163, AFC 32)
From being the lowest ranked team in the world and jumping fifty places to in a month, Bhutan will be favorites to be drawn by all Asian teams. Bhutan’s recent qualifying winn over Sri Lanka may be impressive but the Azkals would be in a better position if Bhutan would be in their group.
Pot 5: Laos (WR 178, AFC 39)
Getting Laos in the group would be best as the Azkals have beaten this team convincinglynin the last AFF tourney.
Worst Case Scenario
Pot 1: Iran (WR 40, AFC 1)
Iran may have been unceremeniously eliminated from the Asian Cup but there is no team in Asia would want to go against Team Melli. Undoubtedly, they are the best team in the continent
Pot 2: Saudi Arabia (WR 95, AFC 9)
The former Asian Champions are always a tough nut to crack and its best that they’d be avoided.
Pot 4: North Korea (WR 157, AFC 27)
Korea DPR’s ranking is decieving but its track record, especially in World Cup qualifying, will make them the most dangerous lowest ranked team in the region.
Pot 5: Malaysia (WR 164, AFC 33)
Though in the lowest pot, one cannot discount the strenght of the runner-up of the last Suzuki Cup. With a strong domestic league and a revamped national squad, Malaysia can beat any team from Pots two to five.
In order for the Azkals to reach the next level of qualifying and an automatic slot in the Asian Cup, a lucky draw is needed for next week. Anything can happen on April 14 so cross your fingers and hope for the best for the Philippine Azkals.