Cooper: Azkals moving in right direction

Azkals coach Scott Cooper admits calling up players for national team selection for the resumption of the qualifiers of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers and AFC Asian Cup proved tougher than usual with injuries, COVID-19 restrictions and personal issues hounding standouts who figured prominently for the squad in the past.

Cooper has called up several new players including Michael Kempter, Jeff Tabinas, Oliver Bias, Mar Diano, Mark Winhoffer, Matthew Baldisimo, Bernd Schipmann and Quincy Kammeraad. Kenshiro Daniels was also recalled after a long absence from the Azkals.

Cooper explained that he had reached out to several players like Kevin Ingreso, Javier Patiño, Patrick Deyto, Michael Falkesgaard and Daisuke Sato before releasing the pool for the three remaining matches here.

Ingreso had begged off to focus on his new club, while Patiño said he is retiring from international football. Sato, Deyto and Falkesgaard couldn’t join the squad due to family reasons.

Still, the Azkals had a formidable pool to choose from with Neil Etheridge and Patrick Strauss also making themselves available. However, Etheridge informed Cooper in late May that he needed to undergo surgery, while Strauss sustained an injury on the final day of the Bundesliga 2 season, ruling him out of the qualifiers.

Iain Ramsay also skipped the matches due to travel restrictions in Australia.

Lloyd Fagerlie, 19, joined camp in Doha, but couldn’t get his passport in time for the qualifiers. More players are in the pipeline to strengthen the squad in the next window including Gerrit Holtmann, Jesper Nyholm and Raphael Obermair.

Bienvenido Marañon is also expected to link up with the team as soon as he is naturalization is completed together with Jesse Curran, who is still working on documentary requirements.
Carlie de Murga and Manny Ott have rejoined the squad for the competition after it was moved to the UAE from China.

The Azkals are currently in third spot in the group with seven points, behind Syria and China.

Cooper’s squad face the Chinese on Monday at Sharjah Stadium here. The Azkals tangle with Guam on July 11 and Maldives four days later.

As it stands, the team is on track of surpassing the previous qualifying tally of 10 points from the last cycle.

Cooper believes the challenges in squad selection could also be a blessing in disguise as it fits the long term plans of the team.

“The future looks excellent with new additions, existing players and some younger players coming into the squad that are also eligible for Olympics and SEA Games too ensuring the long term future is also considered,” said Cooper.

“The planning of all aspects of Azkals short, medium and long term have been considered. The fact that the team is in position for its best ever group tally in the World Cup ever despite several player unavailability bodes well for the future.”