Philippine men's football team drops 'Azkals' tag, names new coach

Olmin Leyba - Philstar.com
Philippine men's football team drops 'Azkals' tag, names new coach
Belgian Tom Sainfiet (middle) takes the floor as new coach of the Philippine men's football team in a presser with Philippine Football Federation president John Gutierrez and director of national teams Freddy Gonzalez.
STAR / Olmin Leyba

MANILA, Philippines – A new era starts for the Philippine men’s football team, which is no longer going by the old “Azkals” moniker, under Belgian coach Tom Saintfiet.

Saintfiet, who has had an accomplished coaching career in Africa, is taking over from Michael Weiss in the rejigged program aimed at winning the Asean crown and qualifying for the Asian Cup and ultimately the FIFA World Cup.

“He’s the perfect match for us and what we want to achieve,” said Philippine Football Federation director of national teams Freddy Gonzalez in Monday’s press conference where he and president John Gutierrez introduced the new man in charge. “Tom wants to win and he’s here to help us win.”

Saintfiet previously steered Gambia to back-to-back qualification in the Africa Cup of Nations, including a breakthrough quarterfinal stint in 2021. He vied for the “Best Coach in African Football” in the African Football Confederation Awards twice and earned nomination for “Coach of the Year” from both the Royal Belgian Football Association and All Sports Journalists in 2022.

Saintfiet, who will operate a 17-man staff that includes assistant coach Norman Fegidero, plunges into work right away with the Pinoy booters set to play Iraq in Basra on March 21 and Manila five days later in the next window of the joint World and Asian Cups Qualifiers.

The Filipinos are running third in Group F with one point off a 1-1 draw with Indonesia and 0-2 loss to Vietnam in Window 1 under Weiss last November. Iraq (six points from two wins) and Vietnam (three points from one win and one loss) hold 1-2 positions in the race for the two tickets to the 2026 AC proper and the third round of the WCQ.

“We like to keep the World Cup 2026 dream alive,” said Saintfiet, who started camp with the local-based players yesterday and scheduled an open training session for media and the fans on Friday.

“If everyone is on board and believes in the ambition, I’m sure we’ll be ready to compete with the best in Asia and we’ll be in the Asian Cup in 2027.”

Gonzalez, who will serve as the team manager, said Saintfiet and his full-bodied staff will be in this “for the long haul” just like the pool of players they will establish.

At the same time, he bared the decision to simply go by the “Philippine men’s team” and drop “Azkals.”

“We feel like the Azkals name has served its purpose and that we’re going to the next step of Philippine football. That (moniker) is something we’re not thinking about but will eventually come into play at some point, whether by us or by the fans,” he said. 

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