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Azkals Now Ranked 17th In Asia As Draw For 2018 World Cup Asian Elims Nears

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As the formal draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Asian eliminations, which will be held in the city of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, approaches, the Philippine Men’s National Football Team, more popularly known as the Azkals, sits at the 17th spot among Asian countries. The Azkals find themselves belonging to Tier 3, which also includes other footballing nations in Asia, such as Palestine, Tajikistan, Lebanon, Afghanistan, India, Thailand, and India. The pinoy futboleros will find out their position in the draw on April 14.

Tier 1 consists of Asian football powerhouse nations such as Japan, South Korea, and Australia, as well as Iraq, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, and China. Tier 2 meanwhile is composed of Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Jordan, Bahrain, and Syria.

The Azkals are expected to be drawn against countries from Tier 1 and Tier 2, not from their own group which is Tier 3. Qualifiers will be done double-round robin style, with five nations playing two matches each (one at home and another away).

After the April 14 draw, teams will start playing home and away matches with four other teams, starting in June and lasting until March of next year, when the top qualifiers will be decided.

The top team of each group will advance to the second stage of World Cup eliminations. Four teams that land close to the leading country in a group will be given a chance to secure World Cup elimination berths, or a third round qualifying stage in the Asian Cup. Teams who finish in third and fourth place in a group will also be given a chance to get into the qualifying stage of the Asian Cup. For the Azkals, even if they have conservative expectations, they can still aspire to enter into the Asian Cup if they end up on 24th place.

The Azkals have about three months to prepare for the World Cup eliminations. They suffered a 1-2 loss to Bahrain a week ago, but should be ready to go through another round of friendlies and preparations under American coach Thomas Dooley.

The team has been actively seeking the services of Javier Patiño Lachica, who currently plays as a striker for Chinese club Henan Jianye F.C. in the Chinese Super League. Despite some strong build-up play, the Azkals have been a bit lacking in converting goals. Patiño should help beef up the attacking frontline of the team, which already includes Phil Younghusband, Ruben Doctora, and Mark Hartmann, as well as recent call-ups Jovin Bedic and Nate Burkey.

During the last World Cup qualifying, the Azkals managed to defeat Sri Lanka 5-1 on aggregate, but succumbed to the more organized Kuwaiti squad who overpowered the Pinoy futboleros 5-1 on aggregate.

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