The AFF Suzuki Cup is one of the most anticipated tournaments by the Philippine National Football Team, The Azkals. For the longest time since that surprise 2010 campaign, the country (where football is not the number one team sport) had been one of the least to be considered contenders.
But now that the team has experienced a resurgence since its heydays during the infancy years of organised, international modern football, the biennial regional meet has been the proving ground of the squad in terms of their progress along with the traditional powerhouses of Southeast Asia.
Yes, the Philippine Azkals might have qualified for the AFC Asian Cup – no doubt a massive, almost miraculous, and commendable achievement, but the team is well aware that its place in the continental footballing sphere is still very much at a development phase and the tournament is a breakthrough towards so-called “uncharted territories” in the sport.
But the Suzuki Cup is a competition that the Philippines have been competing ever since the beginning, a turf in which they are well familiar, from their years of seeming hopelessness and resignation up until reaching a certain level when defeats were agonising because of their proximity to attaining glory.
Such is the importance of the tournament this year that the team’s management is doing everything within its means to come up with the most competitive setup, highlighted by the on-boarding of multi-titled manager and head coach Sven-Goran Eriksson.
However, with the AFF Suzuki Cup’s full duration falling way out of bounds of FIFA’s international calendar, The Azkals are expecting some big name absentees, particularly players who are plying their trades in Europe, where leagues in that continent are already right smack in the middle of their respective seasons.
So without further delay, here are the possible names that will not be able to suit up for the Philippines this AFF Suzuki Cup.
#4 John-Patrick Strauss (Position: Midfielder; Club: Erzgebirge-Aue; League: 2.Bundesliga of Germany)
Born in Germany from a Filipino mother and a German father, 22-year old John-Patrick Strauss developed his footballing skills within the German football system and played as a midfielder for the most part of his career with some defensive roles on some appearances.
He spent the latter part of his youth career with 1.Bundesliga club RB Leipzig’s U17 and U19 squads before being promoted to RB Leipzig II playing for 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons where he was able to amass 54 competitive appearances and notching 10 goals.
From 2017 onwards, Strauss signed for 2. Bundesliga club Erzgebirge-Aue on a free transfer where he was able to attain 19 appearances.
His debut for the Philippines came on October 13, 2018 as a second half substitute in which he was able to show his capabilities. A battling midfielder with his defensive qualities coupled with his strength, pace and dribbling skills as his strengths, his possible absence due to the European calendar will most likely be missed this AFF Suzuki Cup.
#3 Amin Nazari (Position: Defensive Midfielder Club: IFK Mariehamn; League: Finnish Veikkausliiga)
A product of Swedish club Malmo’s youth system, 25-year old Amin Nazari played for Malmo with loan spells with Swedish clubs Assyriska FF and Falkenbergs FF, he eventually secured a move to Finnish club Mariehamn in 2017.
A holding midfielder who serves as a conduit from defence to attack, his playmaking ability and vision along with his occasional participation in the offensive plays will be sorely missed this AFF Suzuki Cup.
He is the younger of brother of Ceres-Negros defensive midfielder Omid Nazari.
#2 Daisuke Sato (Position: Left-Back; Club: Sepsi Sfantu Gheorghe; League: Romanian Liga I)
A battling left-back for Romanian club, Sepsi OSK, 24-year old Sato has been instrumental for the club’s survival out of relegation during the 2017-18 Romanian Liga I Playout.
A product of Urawa Red Diamonds youth team, Dasiuke Sato played for Sendai University in college. He then played as a professional for Filipino Club Global FC in the UFL before completing a move to Romanian club Politechnica Iasi.
A stint with Danish Superleague Club Horsens followed, but he wasn’t able to secure regular playing time prompting a return to Romania, this time with Sepsi OSK as a regular starter.
His industriousness and work-rate from the left flank are his main strengths, with the occasional attacking threat from range. And with the Romanian League in the middle of its season, it is likely that Sato will not be able to suit up for the Philippines.
#1 Neil Etheridge (Position: Goalkeeper; Club: Cardiff City FC; League: Premier League)
Possibly the biggest name not to feature for the Azkals if ever Neil Etheridge won’t be able to play a part in the Suzuki Cup campaign.
The Filipino shot stopper has made a name for Cardiff City FC and continues to increase his profile with some standout performances for his club in the Premier League – definitely the highest club level that a Filipino footballer is currently playing at.
— Cardiff City FC (@CardiffCityFC) October 22, 2018
At this moment, The Azkals are still hopeful that Etheridge will possibly play between the posts in Suzuki Cup fixtures that will fall within the FIFA international break, but if ever a release from Cardiff City FC cannot be secured, then Neil will prove to be the biggest absentee for the Philippine squad.
Despite these possible absences, The Azkals still can muster a very competitive lineup given the recent depth of talent available both locally within the Philippines Football League and Filipinos playing for Southeast Asian Clubs.
Yes, with the probability that these four names might not feature in the lineup come the squad list is released, the Philippines might not be at full strength come the Southeast Asian tournament begins. But that will only be on paper, as other players could definitely step up with some surprise performances from unfamiliar names (for non-followers of Philippine football) just waiting to be unleashed.