Azkals launch new LGR kits for World Cup Qualifying

The Philippine Azkals together with LGR Sportswear launched the new Azkals Kits for their Asian World Cup Qualifying Campaign last night at SPARTA in Mandaluyong City.

In a first of firsts, the Azkals tapped local sportswear brand in LGR to produce the kits gor them.  Currently the biggest local sportswear brand across Philippine Sports, LGR produced home (white) and away (blue) kits including other team accesories.


      

Like the Azkals, LGR also came from humble beginnings from a modest dress shop to a leading brand serving teams from the UFL, PSL, PBL, and the PBA.

IMG_4132LGR EVP Rhayan Cruz

 Azkals Team Manager Dan Palami

The launch also featured LGR’s footwear partner in Adidas Philippines who provided the Azkals with top of the line (unreleased) boots for their campaign.

Adidas Ace Boots

 Adidas X Boots

These boots will be launched soon according to Patrick Giron of Adidas Philippines. The event was hosted by football player and SPARTA owner Amanda Fernandez.


            Azkals Crew with LGR’s Rhayan  

Ceres-Azkals raring for national team duties

By Ivan Gayares (@ivangeoffrey)

Ceres-La Salle standouts in Martin Steuble, Patrick Reichelt, Manny Ott, and Juani Guirado started their national team duties Monday with the first practice of the Philippine Azkals at the Rizal Memorial.

IMG_3400

The team welcomed greenhorns in Kevin Ingreso and Luke Woodland into the fold including the return of Stephan Shrock.

“It was exciting to see new faces, playing them, look at (how) they play, and get closer (together)” said Reichelt.

Though the session was a light one, it was evident that Bacolod-based players were eager to show their wares and fight for their place in the team.

“It was fun.  We have a lot of new players, good players, so the level was higher and it was really fun to play with them” said Ott.

Steuble added “It was nice to see all the guys, to meet the new teammates, to have an easy session to start, and get to know the guys.  Were always positive looking forward to the games”.

Ian Ramsey also arrived in practice after arriving a few hours earlier from Australia.  The rest of the team will arrive in the next few days after fulfilling their personal and club commitments.

“Were waiting for the rest, to have them play for the national team, and (were) waiting for the big games” said Ceres captain Juani Guirado.

 

Azkals Road to World Cup: Best and Worst Case Draw Scenarios

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.

IMG_2691To 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.

[Commentary] Should the UFL adopt the AFC Competitions’ Foreigner Cap Rule?

In 2008, then AFC President Mohammed Bin Hammam introduced the ‘3+1′ rule in AFC Club competitions.  The rule states that only four foreign players are allowed in a single club in AFC Club Competitions and one of which should be an Asian player.  Since the Philippines have now been given slots to the AFC Cup, Philippine clubs are now required to comply to this regulation in the Cup. Since the UFL is using a higher cap, the transition to the AFC Club competition rules is quite challenging.  Here is an in depth look on the leagues current status, our neighbors’ foreign caps, and the changes needed if AFC Foreign Cap rule is adopted.

The Current State

UFL Clubs can sign an unlimited amount of on foreign players but they can only play five of them at a time.  All the UFL teams maximize the five foreign player limit which has undoubtedly made the games more competitive and exciting.

The “Big Three” Clubs in Global, Loyola, and Ceres have the quality foreign players but these clubs are now seen to be building on their local players more than the foreigners.  With Ceres getting abroad-based Azkals to play for them and Global scouring the globe for players with Filipino heritage, it is interesting to see that the clubs are switched on building the local core instead of importing new players.

asean leagues caps
Looking at our ASEAN neighbors

All of our ASEAN neighbors have caps in the number of foreign players signed per team.  Thailand and Singapore allows up to five foreign players signed while Indonesia and Vietnam only allow three. Indonesia used to follow the ‘3+1’ rule but have recently reduced it to three.  Vietnam meanwhile have a ‘2+1’ rule where the plus one is assigned to a naturalized player (player of Vietnamese descent).

Singapore can sign and play five at a time just because the city-state has a small population, hence smaller player population.  Thailand meanwhile only allows four foreign players in-game which  allows a higher level of play in what is considered to be South East Asia’s best league.

Malaysia is the closest nation to adopt this ‘3+1’ AFC Competitions rule but the Malaysian Super League just recently allowed all four foreign players to play at the same time.  The current AFC rule only allows up to 3 foreign players in a game.

There is no direct correlation on the foreign cap rule versus the performance of the country’s national team but it can be seen that the best leagues implement a limit on its foreign players at the minimum.

So what can the UFL do?

If the UFL would want to change the current situation to easily comply with the AFC rules, the first step would be to implement a cap of the number of foreigners signed from unlimited to only five.  Like the S-League and the TPL, this will assure the retention of the best foreign players to maintain the quality in the league.

The second step would be to lower the number of foreign players in a game from five to four in order to free up another spot for a local player.  This step would assure the development of local players because of the additional line-up spot and an easier transition to the AFC’s 3+1 rule.

The Philippines cannot yet follow Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam’s examples  given that the Filipino player base is really low compared to its neighbors.

We can safely say that the most urgent need is to put a cap on foreign players signed per club so we can be at par with our neighbors and in some way increase the participation of local players.  Changes will need to be done in the next few years so the Clubs can easily comply in AFC competitions.

Comments & Discussion on this issue can be extended in the comments box below.

Ceres-La Salle FC: Maziya S&RC Scouting Report

On Tuesday, Ceres-La Salle FC will mark their historic first-step in the AFC Cup with a playoff game against the Maldives’ Maziya S&RC. If they win against the home side, It will assure them of more AFC Cup games in the group stages.  Here’s a quick look at their playoff opponents.

Maziya Sports and Recreation Club is a Football Club for the Maldivian top flight, Dhivehi Premier League.  The Club was formed in 1996 and was promoted to the first division in 2006.  With their players known as The Green Boys, this club has qualified for this playoff game as winners of the Maldives FA Cup in 2014.

Last year, Maziya placed second in the Premier League, with the eventual winners in New Radiant qualifying directly to the Group stages. New Radiant SC won the league with a seven-point cushion but Maziya finished stronger by tying the eventual champs in the last league game together with their cup victory.

In the last AFC Cup, Maziya was winless but played good stretches against the bigger South East Asian Teams. Arema of Indonesia needed injury time to beat Maziya 3-2 in Jakarta. The Indonesian team led by former Indonesian Captain Christian Gonzales showed their true quality by dominating and getting a 3-1 result in the return leg in Male.

In Bukit Jalil, Maziya scored opening goal to the dismay of the Selangor faithful but the Malaysian club recovered to finish with a 4-1 win. Maziya also showed their true form against Vietnam’s SHB Na Danang. The Maldivian side scored two quality goals but conceded three in the end.

Players to watch

Assadhulla Abdulla – this 24-year old striker is the Club Captain and was the top scorer of the Dhivehi Premier League.  He is arguably the best local player for the Maziya Squad

Pedro Rodriguez – the spanish national is a former player of KAYA FC and is known to have good finishing skills and aerial excellence.  He scored in almost all of KAYA FCs games last year.

Zhivko Dinev – a bulgarian center back who was once part of the Bulgarian national youth sides.

Toshiya Hosoe –  the clubs AFC player is a former KAYA FC midfielder who is pretty reliable on the field

Silas Dos Santos Junior – not much is known from this Brazilian player but it is assumed that a striker from Brazil should always be treated

Just recently, Maziya featured in the final of the 2015 Peoples Cup, a short international club tournament that was held in the Maldives.  Malaysia’s super league team PDRM FA  (Royal Police) beat Maziya by 5-4  in what was labelled as thrilling final match in National Football Stadium.  Regulation time yielded a 3-3 scoreline after a Maziya fightback but the team fell short in extra time after losing a man through a second yellow.

PDRM or the Royal Malaysian Football Club features Malaysian Internationals such as Muslim Ahmad and Afif Amiruddin and Maldivian superstar Ali Ashfaq.  The tournament also featured Singapore’s Lions XII and New Radiant SC who were 3rd and 4th place respectively.

Based on the results of their preseason tournament loaded with tough clubs, we can fairly assume that Ceres is playing a seasoned and quality side in the playoff.  Having the quality to match up against bigger Malaysian clubs shows that this team is no pushover and Ceres must come out with a lot of urgency in order to get a result.

Breaking Down the 2015 UFL Schedule

It felt like Christmas morning when I received a copy of this years UFL competition schedule. Seven months of loaded domestic and international football was too much to take-in in one go, so I decided to break it down for all of you.

IMG_3224-3

UFL Division 1

UFL Division 1 will headline a complete 10-team cast for the highest level of Philippine League football.

The Ten First Division teams are:
Ceres-La Salle FC
Kaya Fc
Global FC
Loyola-Meralco Sparks FC
Stallion FC
Manila Jeepney FC
Philippine Army FC
Green Archers United FC
Team Socceroo FC
Pachanga-Diliman FC

Division 1 starts on February 7 with the final games on August 16, 2015. It will be a total of six months of action with a break in between rounds from April 19 to May 30. The break would be used by the UFL for its All-Star Break and also on the start of the youth competition in the summer. Both rounds will have the same order of opponents which will be highlighted by the games from the Big Four (Kaya, Ceres, Global, and Loyola). All games will be played in the RMC with no provincial games set in the schedule.

UFL Division 2

UFL Division 2 will only have 7 participants with new side Kabuscorp de Laguna FC and returnees Mendiola FC 1991. Division two will run with the first division but will finish earlier due to the number of teams. All games will be played in the RMC.

The Seven Second Division Teams are:
Laos FC
Agila FC
Pasargad FC
Kabuscorp de Laguna FC
JP Voltes FC
Mendiola FC 1991
Forza FC

The Cup

The initial schedule if the cup was created for eight groups of four teams (32 teams in total). Realistically, there are only 17 teams for the UFL so theres a chance for other clubs to join the Cup. The Cup may also be shortened in the group stages if the ideal number of participants are not met.

The best feature for me was the interweaving of both the League and Cup Competitions in the schedule. April 28 marks the Cup’s first day for the Group Stages with the Final on Aug 22, a week after the League ends. This is good as there is the incentive of still winning a major competition even if the League is settled early.

The AFC Cup

Ceres will play on Feb 17 against Maziya FC in the Maldives. If they win, they will already travel to India to meet Bengaluru FC for the first Group stage match. Global and Ceres will play six home and away matches with their games playing on different dates for every game which opens a possibility of TV coverages. All games will happen midweek and home stadia are Panaad and Rizal Memorial for Ceres and Global respectively. The group stages of the AFC Cup will end on the mid of May.

Beyond the schedule

There are no schedules indicated for activities after the League and Cup so I’m assuming that a mini tournament, probably the second installment of the FA League Cup will be done in the latter parts of the year.

The Local Supercup, match between League and Cup winners, match date is not yet part of the schedule but will undoubtedly happen.

Qualification beyond the round of 16 of the AFC Cup is unknown as only the Round of 16 match schedule is set on May the 26th. We will still see if out local teams progress to the next level.

The Schedule was well thought of and the fans will mostly be happy with it. The schedule seems to be a bit busy for Global and Ceres but there is enough rest days in between for match and travel recovery.

The full schedule will be available in the UFL Website (ufl.ph).