DUBAI — Philippine Azkals mentor Sven Goran Eriksson beams confidence over the chances of his wards as they head to the biggest tournament of their lives — the AFC Asian Cup — here.
For our players, this is their biggest tournament. But it feels good that we finally have the rest of the team here
With midfielder Patrick Strauss making a last-minute arrival in this bustling city at the heart of Arabian Peninsula late Thursday, the prolific Swede coach now has a full 24-man roster that is ready to face heavyweights South Korea, China and Kyrgyzstan in this prestigious 24-team tourney.
“It’s fantastic; we’re finally complete,” said Eriksson, who also coached England and Ivory Coast ion the FIFA World Cup.
“For our players, this is their biggest tournament. But it feels good that we finally have the rest of the team here.”
The Azkals already plunged into their first training and will still have two more days before facing two-time champion Korea, which pulled off a shocker when it upset reigning titlist Germany in the FIFA World Cup last year.
Although top striker Son Heung-min will miss the opener, there won’t be a shortage of talent in the side of Portuguese coach Paolo Bento.
But Eriksson isn’t wary as the arrival of Strauss — a campaigner in Germany’s Division II — will give him additional option after serving as a driving force for the Azkals during the semifinals of the AFF Suzuki Cup.
Strauss, in fact, was greatly missed in two semifinal matches against Vietnam after getting recalled by his club — Erziberge Aue — at the end of group stage.
He would face one of Korea’s key men in Lee Jae-sung, who also plays in the same German league.
Azkals’ skipper Phil Younghusband said they are ready for war despite failing to come up with a complete attendance in their training camp in Doha.
Their situation is in sharp contrast with that of the Koreans, who set up a camp in Ulsan and have been training in the United Arab Emirates for the past two weeks.
“Different countries have different preparations,” said Younghusband.
“At the end of the day, we all have each other in the team and we’re ready to fight for each other until the final whistle.”