Despite exiting from the World Cup contention, the Azkals clinched a ticket to the third round of the Asian Cup qualifiers in what was hailed as their strongest qualifying berth in history, finishing with their highest group stage tally of 11 points, placing behind China and Syria.
Goalkeeper Bernd Schipmann shares to The LaSallian his insights into this success and on what it was like playing under strict quarantine measures.
Keys to success
Schipmann finds that what drove the squad was the addition of young players, while still keeping a fair bit of experience to help guide the new generation. Heading into the competition, the Azkals surprised fans with a fresh-faced roster manned by nine debuting players—midfielders Oliver Bias and Matthew Baldisimo; defenders Mar Diano, Jefferson Tabinas, Michael Kempter, and Mark Winhoffer; and keepers Schipmann, Kevin Ray Mendoza, and Quincy Kammeraad.
The German-Filipino shot-stopper also praises coach Scott Cooper’s guidance throughout the tournament. “He gave us a plan to match the enemies and was always able to show us their strengths and weaknesses, so that we knew where the enemies were to be wounded,” he shares.
Even with the success and potential that the Azkals have under their wing, there were still elements beyond the team’s control, posing as challenges or hindrances to the young squad. Moreover, given the current pandemic, there are many underlying issues that the team continues to tackle.
For instance, Schipmann reveals that the bubble systems in countries each have differing regulations. As a result, the team was not able to train and spend as much time together before the tournament, as the players arrived at the venues at different times. This, according to Schipmann, added a layer of difficulty.
Keeping a positive attitude
In spite of the circumstances faced by the Azkals and other teams in the tournament, the competition was still successful in bringing together teams from all over Asia in the spirit of competition. Following this recent campaign, the Azkals securing a spot in the Asian Cup qualifiers’ third round has been a very positive showing on behalf of the country’s athletes.
The gratitude the team expressed, not only in being able to compete but simply in being together as a team in the competition has definitely shown both on and off the pitch, as Schipmann shares, “We can be happy that we have been able to play or train.”
Throughout all of the challenges, as well as the successes, Schipmann maintains a positive outlook, saying, “In the end, it didn’t matter who was standing on the square. It was all about winning, and that’s what everyone who was there wanted.”
With the promising performance by the Azkals Development Team in the 2020 season of the Philippine Football League and with this recent Azkals showcase, the Filipino football faithful have so much to look forward to. As Schipmann puts it, “I’m sure in the future we will have a really strong team that will fight for the country and make them proud. There are so many good players with Filipino blood, so I see a really good future ahead of us.”