Azkals vie for Asian Cup U-23 slot in Singapore qualifiers

MANILA – The Philippine Azkals’ under-23 team is looking to make it to the AFC U-23 Asian Cup through the qualifying stage next month in Singapore.

Making up the core of the national team are members of the Azkals Development Team (ADT), led by midfielder and team captain Oliver Bias.

Also joining in from the ADT are goalkeeper Quincy Kammeraad, defender Christian Rontini, midfielders Jethro Borlongan, Yrick Gallantes, Mandy Ignacio, Oskari Kekkonen, Sandro Reyes, Mark Swainston, Mark Winhoffer, and Dennis Chung, and striker Ivan Ouano.

In 2012, the then nine-year-old Reyes made it to FCB Escola, the Barcelona football school.

Two players from reigning Philippines Football League (PFL) champion United Clark have also been called for Azkals duty — defender Justin Baas and forward Kieran Hayes.

The other PFL player who made it to the national team is Mendiola keeper Jessie Semblante.

Some players from the pro ranks overseas will likewise see action, Calcio Lecco’s Paolo Lopez, Portsmouth’s David Setters, and Randers’ Jens Rasmussen, and so will two collegiate players, La Salle’s Enrico Mangaoang, and Lincoln Memorial’s Shanden Vergara.

Completing the roster are Nathan Rilloraza and Miguel Mendoza.

The team will be in Group H with host Singapore, powerhouse South Korea, and Timor Leste.

The top team in the group after the single-round event will join the 10 other group winners in the AFC U-23 Asian Cup proper next year in Uzbekistan, which is assured of a spot in the main tournament regardless of its finish in the qualifying stages.

If Uzbekistan tops Group D that also has Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, and Kuwait, the runner-up will get the Asian Cup berth.

The Azkals could also sneak into the AFC U-23 Asian Cup even if they fail to top Group H, but they must be among the four teams with the best second-place finish to qualify.

The Filipinos begin their quest at Jalan Besar Stadium against the South Koreans on October 25 at 5 p.m., meet the hosts on October 28 at 8 p.m., and will wind up their bid against the Timor Leste booters on October 31 also at 5 p.m.