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Cooper agrees to contract extension as Azkals target 2026 World Cup

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The Philippine Football Federation has extended Azkals head tactician Scott Cooper’s coaching contract with the goal of leading the national squad to at least the prestigious 2023 AFC Asian Cup before making a strong push for a historic appearance in the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

Cooper, who previously spent his career in the Thai League, has been with the Philippine team since 2018, but it wasn’t until the joint 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers when he took the head coach position on a full-time basis.

Even PFF president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta expressed satisfaction with the English manager’s performance so far in the qualifiers where the Azkals are third in Group A behind Syria and China.

“I think the team has improved under him and we look forward to him taking the team to another level,” said Araneta, who is also a member of the powerful FIFA executive council.

Though the squad remains in contention for the next edition of the World Cup in 2022, Azkals manager Dan Palami said that the 2026 tournament seems to be a more plausible target for them.

“We trust that coach Scott can take the team into where we want it to be,” said Palami.

“It is just unfortunate that the COVID-19 pandemic stopped our momentum, but we have set what we feel are realistic goals for the team in the future.”

Regardless of the postponement of the supposed resumption of the Asian Cup and World Cup qualifiers in October and November, as well as the AFF Suzuki Cup which was penciled in December, Cooper has kept himself busy in communicating with the players and sharpening the arsenal of the national team.

Cooper expanded the squad’s stock of talents by identifying young homegrown stars who have the potential to be groomed and developed as part of the senior team.

Part of his program includes the creation of the Azkals Development Team, who is tipped to compete in the upcoming season of the Philippines Football League, guided with the aim of giving the young talents the chance to flourish and compete in a more intense level of the game.

The said up-and-coming team is composed of a fine field of talents bannered by former Ateneo ace Jayvee Gayoso, prized forward Chima Uzoka and stalwart midfielder Christian Rontini.

“When I first came here, I saw the massive potential of the Azkals,” said Cooper.

“During this pandemic, we’ve been setting goals and putting plans in place to achieve those goals.I can honestly say that we can still get better and I am committed to lead this team as it continues to make its mark in Asian and world football.”

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