“I’m not into making predictions,” he said. “The key is preparing properly for a competition. The important thing is preparation, not prediction. And we’re doing our best to prepare both our men’s and women’s teams for the SEA Games.”
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Araneta says preparation is key
Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) - May 14, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine Football Federation (PFF) president Mariano (Nonong) Araneta isn’t inclined to make predictions. What occupies his mind instead is assuring that players are properly prepared to engage on the pitch. So when Araneta was recently asked to assess the country’s chances in men’s and women’s football at the coming SEA Games, he simply said with the right training and exposure, the hope is to qualify for at least the semifinals.

“I’m not into making predictions,” he said. “The key is preparing properly for a competition. The important thing is preparation, not prediction. And we’re doing our best to prepare both our men’s and women’s teams for the SEA Games.”

The national men’s football team has never tasted a podium finish in the SEA Games. The closest to a medal came when the squad lost to Singapore, 2-0, in the playoff for the bronze at the 1991 edition in Manila. The fourth place finish was never repeated. In the men’s division, the rule is players must be in the U22 age group with two over-aged exceptions. The rule was U23 from 2001-2015 but starting in 2017, it was adjusted. In the Olympics, the rule is U23 with three over-aged exceptions but two to play at a time. In the women’s division, there are no age restrictions.

The national team took a bronze medal in the inaugural women’s tournament in Bangkok in 1985 then claimed fourth place in 1995, 2005 and 2017. Another Final Four finish is the goal for the women’s side but a medal may not be a long shot. For the men, it’s a tough grind as all 11 countries in the region are out for honors. The men’s matches will be played at the Rizal Memorial Stadium while the women’s matches will be at the Biñan facility.

Araneta said men’s coach Anto Gonzalez will choose the two “seniors” to reinforce the U22 team.  Gonzalez will be assisted by coaching consultant Scott Cooper of England. Cooper, 48, is the Azkals head coach. Araneta said the men’s team will compete in the Merlion Cup in Singapore next month as part of its preparation for the SEA Games. The Azkals, meanwhile, will see action in a friendly with China in Guangzhou on June 7.

Araneta said it’s not uncommon for national teams to change coaches on a regular basis. Since 2010, the Philippines has recruited foreign head coaches Des Bulpin, Simon McMenemy, Michael Weiss, Tom Dooley, Terry Butcher, Sven-Goren Eriksson and now, Cooper. “It’s how it is in world football,” he said. “National teams aspire to go to the next level. Performance is assessed after every competition. We also check on how the coaches get along with the players and vice versa. It’s nothing new when national teams change coaches because every team wants to get better and football is becoming more and more competitive in every region of the world.” Araneta said the PFF is consulted whenever there are plans to make coaching changes.

Araneta said the PFF is moving forward in its grassroots program with regional centers in place in Bukidnon, Barotac and Carmona. A pilot academy has been established in Bacolod with Japanese coach Reiji Hirata supervising the U13 elite grassroots program. Futsal is also being promoted nationwide under Danny Moran’s leadership. Araneta said a national ID system will be instituted to register every football player in the country and document authenticated birth certificates.

Aside from operating the PFF, Araneta is busy as chairman of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) finance committee and FIFA council member, one of only five Asian males among 35 members representing 211 nations. He was recently involved in securing a new eight-year marketing and commercial contract for AFC valued at $2.1 billion starting in 2021. The existing AFC deal of $700 million expires in 2020. It took over a year to finalize the new contract after going over five bids with the partnership of Fortis of Switzerland and DDMC Sports of China eventually clinching the deal.

Araneta said football has been a major financial success due to its global popularity over the years. The PFF is a beneficiary of the sport’s progress, receiving $2.7 million a year from FIFA and AFC.   The 2018 World Cup in Moscow was projected to earn $5.7 billion but the final accounting confirmed revenues of $6.3 billion.

“FIFA earns from the World Cup not the Olympics where the IOC takes the income,” said Araneta. “There’s a reason why the World Cup is an open competition and the Olympics is U23 with three over-aged players a team. FIBA might want to consider a similar age rule so there is a difference between the World Cup and Olympics in basketball.”

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