Azkals look to impress in Peace Cup

Chieffy Caligdong, the 2011 Long Teng Cup Golden Boot Winner. Image Copyright Bob Guerrero.

After three grueling road matches, the Philippine Azkals finally get some home cooking.

The national team takes on three lesser-ranked nations in the Philippine Football Peace Cup this coming week at Rizal Memorial Stadium on September 25, 27 and 29.

The event is the continuation of the Long Teng Cup which was held the past two years in Taiwan. The participating teams are the same as the last two tournaments with the exception of defending champs Hong Kong. Taking their place is Guam. Macau and Chinese Taipei round out the field.

The pocket tournament is a single-round robin keague without playoffs. The team with the most points is the champion; one point for a draw and three points for a win.

Goal difference will be the decider to separate two teams in the standings, and if necessary a penalty shootout will take place in the last scheduled match to determine a champion.

Filipinos have won the Golden Boot Award for most goals scored in the two Long Teng Cups played, with Ian Araneta capturing it in 2010 and Chieffy Caligdong earning the honor last year with four strikes.

The event changed venues from Kaohsiung in Taiwan to Bacolod, then to Rizal Memorial, and changed names from the Long Teng Cup to the Paulino Alcantara Cup to the Paulino Alcantara Peace Cup to the Philippine Football Peace Cup.

Coach Michael Weiss will not have the Europe-based Azkals at his disposal, since the playdates are not on FIFA International dates. Ed Sacapano will likely start at goal but don't be surprised if Ref Cuaresma, the Loyola Sparks keeper, gets in a game.

The Younghusband brothers will not play, as we have just learned, which comes as a shock to all fans.  Denis Wolf, Ian Araneta, and Patrick Reichelt will have to pick up the cudgels on the offensive side.

Most of the UFL players on the team should be available.

Aly Borromeo is still out another three weeks because of meniscus surgery so he will not play.

Angel Guirado is tied up with his Indian club, Salgaocar and will not see action, but I have been told that he will rejoin the Azkals starting October and will play in the Suzuki Cup in December.

There will be one new face for the national team: Panamanian-American-Filipino Demitrius Omphroy will likely make his debut for the Philippines.

Omphroy was fielded in the Philippines' exhibition loss to the Chicago Inferno last month but this week will probably see him getting his first full International cap.
The midfielder/defender has played with Toronto FC in Major League Soccer, the top flight of Soccer in North America. He has previously represented Panama at the U-21 level and played for the United States at U-18 competitions.

We'll definitely be seeing more of Omphroy, since he has just signed with Global FC in the UFL.

The Azkals should take heart from a 2-0 scrimmage win over Loyola Sparks last Saturday in Nuvali, with goals from the penalty spot from Ian Araneta and Denis Wolf.

Phil Younghusband missed a penalty of his own, but Coach Weiss won't mind too much because Phil played for Meralco in the game and it was the Azkals keeper Ed Sacapano who made the stop.

First up on Tuesday is a match with 185th-ranked Guam. The Philippines recently blasted the Matao in Bacolod two months ago via a 3-0 scoreline. Guam is captained by Jason Cunliffe and features Josh Borja in defense and Kaya's Jonah Romero in the midfield.

Cunliffe, who just inked a deal with newly-promoted Pachanga in the UFL, has scored nine times for his country, including a hat trick in a 3-1 win against regional rival Northern Marianas in July.

Filipina fans will also be eager to see Dallas Jaye between the posts. The Guamanian keeper's matinee-idol looks set the Twitterverse abuzz last June, in spite of the fact that he leaked in three goals against the Azkals.

Thursday's clash with Macau is a rematch of the team's meeting in the Long Teng Cup last year. In that match Caligdong scored twice in the second half as the Azkals came out on top 2-0.

Macau will need a tougher defense to compete in this event, but recent results are not inspiring. Two months ago Macau absorbed a 3-0 loss away to Guam.

The Macanese are currently languishing near the bottom of the FIFA rankings at 200, tied with Mauritius, a notch below Andorra and just above Brunei Darussalam.

176th-ranked Chinese Taipei on Saturday night should be the Azkals' stiffest opponent.

The first two times the two countries met, Chinese Taipei won 9-0 and 4-0. You will likely not remember those results since they happened in 1954 and 1967.

The countries waited 39 years to play again and Chinese Taipei once again won in Chittagong, Bangladesh during the 2006 Challenge Cup. The game finished 1-0 to the Formosans, with Chieffy Caligdong getting sent off in the 95th minute.

Since then the teams have squared off thrice since 2010 with each game ending in a draw. In the 2010 Long Teng Cup Ian Araneta's late equalizer salvaged a 1-1 draw.

In last year's Long Teng Cup a Chinese Taipei team running an offside trap and diving all game long frustrated the Azkals in Kaohsiung, and the game ended goalless.

Tickets are available at Ticketworld outlets, with Bleacher seats, even those in the center, going for just P53. One ticket gets you admission into a doubleheader, with the 4 pm game between two of the visiting teams and the 7:30 game always involving the Azkals.

Grandstand ticket prices range from P320 to P533. A "Golden Ticket" season pass gets you in the center grandstand for all three games for P1067.

Students can enjoy a 50% discount on Bleacher tickets and non-VIP grandstand tickets.
Live telecasts of just the Azkals' games will be on Studio 23 starting at 7 pm.

You can follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333.