REPORTING FROM KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA
Philippines U-22 coach Marlon Maro expects his team to make it into the semi-finals of the SEA Games football tournament despite being placed in a tough group.
The Philippines have been grouped alongside defending champions Thailand, along with Indonesia and Vietnam. The other two teams in the group are Cambodia and Timor Leste.
The team have never advanced beyond the tournament’s group stages, while they lost all four of their matches at the 2015 SEA Games.
Still, the 52-year-old Maro, a former Philippines international player himself, believes their preparations will help them reach the milestone this time.
“I based my expectations through our preparations. In 2015, I was handed the task of coaching the team only three weeks before the start of the Games,” Maro told Yahoo News Singapore at a pre-tournament press conference held at the Renaissance Hotel in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday (13 August).
“But now, I think we have enough time when it comes to preparations. The tournaments and training tours we were able to go to, it helped the players to build up confidence.”
However, the team’s result have not been promising. While in Japan for a three-game training tour in July, they lost all three matches against second-tier teams and an academy team.
They also finished bottom in their group for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Championship qualifiers, losing all three of their games against Japan, Cambodia and China – while conceding 11 goals in the process.
But Maro explained that he did not have the players contracted to the Philippine Football League clubs then, and that he has his full team now.
“In the AFC qualifiers, the team wasn’t complete because of the conflict with the Philippines Football League,” Maro said.
“What is important now is that the club released players for this South-east Asian Games and my wish-list of players are here.
“With this bunch of local players based in Philippines, we have our best U-22 (players) here right now in Malaysia.”
Maro also noted that it will be crucial for his side to earn three wins.
“For this bracket, we need nine points to progress. The first three games (against Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam) are important,” he explained.
“It’s always a dream since my time for the Philippines to be in the finals but we weren’t able to manage and achieve the goal. So we will take on Cambodia first, then we will see what we can do in the next few games.”