“We have entered a higher level. Our opponents are much stronger than anyone we play in the region. This has been based on hard work and commitment,” Weiss told the-afc.com following their 2-1 win over Tajikistan.
In the process, the Filipino squad won a ticket to the tournament semifinals.
Their win over the Persian Lions was the second time the Azkals defeated a former Challenge Cup champion.
Tajikistan was favored to beat the Philippines based on the former’s ranking in the FIFA world list.
The Persian Lions are ranked No. 145 by FIFA, while the Azkals are 156th.
“We have actually been making history throughout the tournament but that is not comparable to today,” said Weiss.
The Filipinos opened their Challenge Cup campaign with a 2-0 loss to defending champion North Korea.
The Azkals were able to make a gallant stand in that game by holding the Koreans to a scoreless draw in the first half.
They now set their sights on semifinal opponent Turkmenistan.
“We are excited about the semi-final but we will be cool about it at the same time. This is how we are,” said Weiss.
AFC Challenge Cup 2012
(March16) Live on Studio 23, kick-off 4:45PM
Semis1: North Korea (111) vs. Palestine (160)
Semis2: Philippines (156) vs. Turkmenistan (166)
Semis1 Winner vs. Semis2 Winner
note: The 2012 AFC Challenge Cup Champion will get an automatic berth to the 2015 AFC Asian Cup (16 Teams) in Australia. (Qualified teams: Japan, South Korea, Australia)
Except for some minor ground repairs and a thorough check of the stadium itself, the Rizal Memorial football field is definitely capable of hosting the Azkals’ home game against Sri Lanka on July 3.
Philippine Football Federation president Mariano Araneta, Azkals team manager Dan Palami, head coach Michael Weiss and Philippine Olympic Committee chairman Monico Puentevella made an ocular inspection of the venue yesterday.
They didn’t see any major problem.
“As far as the pitch is concerned, there are some patches, some holes that are not seen because they are covered with grass. We have to fix that because it may post danger to the players,” said Palami.
“But it can be done in a month and with still three months left. Overall, the pitch is okay,” he added.
Puentevella said they also have to look into the provisions needed to host an international match, like an adequate dressing room and a media room.
And since the old dressing rooms have very low ceilings, the POC chairman said it should be wiser to put up a temporary structures, air-conditioned, along the halls.
Since the match falls on a Sunday, Puentevella said there will be no need to put up the lights, and instead hold the match at 4 p.m.
“We can hold it at daytime since there’s no work on a Sunday. I’m sure the people will come to see the match. It’s time to bring the Azkals to Manila,” said Puentevella after the inspection also witnessed by the PFF’s Jojo Rodriguez.
Palami said it will not cost much to have all these done in time for the July 3 match. On June 28, the Azkals will play the Sri Lankans in their home turf as part of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
The winner between the Philippines and Sri Lanka will move on to the next stage against Kuwait.
Palami said the stadium itself should be inspected for its structural integrity because it’s been quite a while since it has hosted a big event that is expected to draw a huge crowd.
He said holding the match in Manila, instead of Bacolod, which hosted the Azkals’ AFF Challenge Cup match against Mongolia, will also help the hosts save on logistics.
“This way, we don’t need to fly the Sri Lankans to Bacolod and then back to Manila. It will also be easier for our players coming in from Europe and the US Logistics wise, it’s better to stage it here in Manila,” said Palami.
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James can be aggressive, but only on the pitch
When James has his game face on, you better get out of his way. He’s not afraid to tackle, or get tackled for that matter.
“If you don’t bend the rules, you won’t get far,” he says.
Well “bending the rules” has gotten him three red cards to date – first was when he kicked someone with his knee; another was an accidental headbutt; while the last one was just a “silly foul” during a game here in Davao.
Off the pitch, he remains the shy Jimbo we know, so it’s wise to initiate conversation when you first meet him.
James wanted to be a footballer or superhero
He has been playing football since he was 3-years-old. Because of this, it was a no-brainer for him to want to play in the professional leagues later on in life.
However, James had another childhood dream – he wanted to be a superhero. He probably realized fighting villains and flying around was a tough act so he just stuck with football.
Off the pitch, James is a couch potato
Once he gets his rare breaks from football and work, James would rather chill with his family than go out and paint the town red. His stack of DVDs and Play Station games can prove it.
Aside from “Titanic,” which Phil also loves, James doesn’t mind watching “The Dark Knight,” “Inception” and “The Shawshank Redemption” over and over again.
He also has a special bond with his Play Station, which he says he hasn’t used much because of Azkal duties. But if he has time, he plays virtual football with FIFA and Revelation Soccer.
James loves the arts
If he didn’t pursue sports, James would have stayed in school to study arts. He even used to do graphic design before he got really busy with the Azkals.
“I love being creative. But showbiz is not part of my ‘art,’” he says.
Sorry to all his fans but James is not appearing in mainstream media anytime soon. If ever he does agree to do a movie or a television show, he’ll only accept roles where he’s a football player or coach.
“Nothing out of my comfort zone,” he stresses.
James is scared of heights…and potato chips
James’ biggest fear is heights but he’s obviously overcome that already, what with him getting on planes almost every week for the Azkals.
So right now, his biggest fear would be potato chips. Yes, that bag of salty snack you keep in your pantry.
“I had a bad experience with potato chips when I was a kid. I was in Wales and I got this really bad packet. It was expired or something. After that, I never touched potato chips again,” he retells.
Phil even kids that when he wants James to do something for him, he scares him with potato chips. Weird, but it’s kind of endearing.
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