Ahead of the AFC Challenge Cup in Maldives, we will be previewing each of the 8 teams that will participate for a chance to reach the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia. Click on the links below to see each team’s preview, once available:
Tuesday, May 20th (Addu City) – Afghanistan
Thursday, May 22nd (Addu City) – Laos
Saturday, May 24th (Malé) – Turkmenistan
You can also check out our Predictions Page to see our projected winners in each match.
Back in our very first Challenge Cup qualification preview, our AFC Correspondent touted Philippines vs. Turkmenistan as the highlight of the entire qualification period. Unfortunately, due to the withdrawal of Brunei from the tournament, that match was rendered virtually meaningless. Being in the same group as Brunei worked for both Philippines and Turkmenistan.
As we noted following the qualifying period “Cambodia were clearly the team in Group E that other teams were going to blast in order to better their goal differential, just like Northern Mariana Islands were in Group B.” What it all boiled down to is that to qualify for the tournament, the Philippines had to do just that, blast Cambodia at home. Cambodia is one of the worst teams in the world, and the Philippines took care of business by 8-0. Had they lost to Turkmenistan, they still would’ve advanced to the finals on goal differential.
The Philippines have appeared in the Challenge Cup on two prior occasions: 2006 and 2012. Their best showing was in 2012 when they reached the semifinals and ultimately won the third-place match against Palestine. They surely must feel this is an outstanding opportunity to better that result. The Philippines are #151 in the WGF rankings, which is 3rd in Group B.
Before the Tournament
Unlike many other teams, international friendlies were scheduled well in advance of the tournament. The results were a mixed bag. A 3-0 thrashing of Nepal in Doha, Qatar was encouraging, but a goalless draw at home to our #173 ranked team Malaysia is a step backwards. This is the 2nd goalless home draw against Malaysia in the last two months. The team currently does not have any more matches scheduled prior to the start of the tournament. They attempted to negotiate a friendly with Palestine prior to the tournament, but Palestine was not interested. The team will head to Bahrain for training ahead of the tournament. Perhaps they will look to schedule something during that time with either the national team or some local teams.
The Philippines will have all of their top players available for the tournament. The Philippines’ UFL League Division 1 will cease on May 4th, and the players will have two weeks to prepare. With arguably the best names in football, the brothers Younghusband (James and Phil) will be a part of the squad. An interesting name to watch is midfielder Mark Hartmann. He leads the UFL with 21 goals in just 18 games. The recently turned 22 year old has never scored for the national team, but he could play a big role if he is included in the roster.
The Philippines always play a large number of matches. Over the past 3 years, they’ve played a whopping 45 matches. While the results have been generally positive, the level of competition is not always top notch. Of those 45 matches, 26 of them have been against teams below #160 in our rankings. In those matches, there have been 15 wins, 10 draws, and 1 loss. The loss, ironically, is to fellow group member Laos.
But against better competition, things aren’t so good. 7 of the 45 matches have been against teams ranked 130 or better. A 0-0 draw against Bahrain is the only point they’ve claimed in those matches. As such, the overall ranking of #151 makes sense. Afghanistan and Turkmenistan are ranked #136 and #137 respectively.
As indicated in our Laos preview, the Azkals have NEVER beaten Laos. That absolutely must change if there is any hope of qualifying for the Asian Cup. They drew 1-1 in their only ever meeting with Afghanistan. The defeat over Turkmenistan in last year’s qualifiers was the first win over another team in this group.
The draw was definitely not kind to the Philippines. Afghanistan is a tougher draw than Kyrgyzstan, and despite Maldives being the host, that was probably preferable to Turkmenistan. But the fun thing about this tournament is that there are so many teams that are so close in quality. The first match against Afghanistan will be telling. If the Azkals are able to get points, their chances of advancing bode well.
As far as our simulator goes, it is uncertain what fate lies ahead for the Azkals. We give them around a 40% chance of advancing to the knockout stage, including about a 1 in 6 chance of finishing top of Group B. They are going to need to channel some of the form that resulted in the 1-0 defeat of Turkmenistan. This is a dangerous team and is certainly in play as one to watch.
Projected Group Finish: 3rd