Problems are starting to surface for the Philippine Azkals entering the crucial stretch of their preparation for the FIFA World Cup and AFC Asian Cup joint Qualifiers from 3 to 5 June in Suzhou China.
Head coach Scott Cooper yesterday said the Azkals are having a hard time in their buildup after some players, including star keeper Neil Etheridge, are not available to see action.
Etheridge, who recently secured clearance from Birmingham City to suit up for the national squad, made a surprise decision of begging off from participating in their training camp in Doha to undergo surgery.
Aside from Etheridge, also sidelined are Patrick Strauss, Niko de Vera, Ian Ramsay, Carlie de Mura and Raphael Obermair.
Geritt Holtmann, Lloyd Fagerlie and Jesper Nyholm also failed to make it after failing to secure their travel documents.
With nine players being ruled out, the Azkals have called up midfielders Kenshiro Daniels of Kaya FC, Mike Ott of United City and Quincy Kammeraad of the Azkals Development Team, who will join Bern Schipman and Kevin Ray Mendoza in manning the goal in the absence of Etheridge.
The replacements already arrived in Doha on Friday.
Cooper admitted that they are facing a very tough situation.
“As it stands right now, your coaching plans are one thing, but you just want other players to arrive,” Cooper said in a radio interview.
“From the original lineup that we initially had, around 11 players will not be in China with us.”
“Seven to eight players from them would have potentially been starting players. We’ve been hit really hard.”
Azkals team manager Dan Palami expressed regret over this development, but stressed that they will still find a way to make the country proud.
“It has always been a challenging task to assemble players. We have 20 players who are going to participate in this phase of competition,” Palami said in a statement.
“But even then, we have very courageous, talented and skillful players who are here with us. We’re happy to have them and the coaching staff will work on them to make sure that we’ll be able to give everybody a good fight and good representation of ourselves and the Philippines.”
Cooper agreed, saying that he remains confident that the Azkals will still be able to jell before heading to China on Sunday.
“We have to turn these adversities into something positive and let’s see what we can do,” Cooper said.
“What I’m trying to achieve is to get as many players we initially wanted (to be) here in Doha so we can move on.”
“We will be competitive, there’s no doubt about that. We have very good players here and we can build on that.”