NATURALIZED striker Bienve Marañon leads the 27 players who received call ups for the Philippine Azkals lineup in the AFF Suzuki Cup next month in Singapore.
The Philippines is grouped with Thailand, Singapore, Myanmar and Timor Leste in the region’s biggest football competition which kicks off on December 5.
The Singaporeans will be the Azkals’ first assignment on December 8, followed by matches against the Timorese (December 11), the Thais (December 14) and the Burmese (December 18).
Except the match against Myanmar, which will be played at Bishan Stadium, all of the Philippines games are slated at the National Stadium.
Joining Marañon is spearheading the Azkals’ attack is captain Stephan Schrock, with veteran campaigners like Patrick Reichelt, Mike Ott, Martin Steuble, Angel Guirado and Kenshiro Daniels also in the roster.
Making their return to the squad after missing out on the Fifa World Cup and AFC Asian Cup joint qualifiers last June are Amani Aguinaldo, Kevin Ingreso, Iain Ramsay and Daisuke Sato.
Defender Jeff Tabinas, who made his debut against China in the qualifiers, has also been recalled along with Mar Diano and goalkeepers Bernd Schipmann and Kevin Ray Mendoza.
Having represented the country in the AFC U23 Asian Cup qualifiers last October in Singapore, Oliver Bias, Justin Baas, Dennis Chung, Oskari Kekkonen, Sandro Reyes, Christian Rontini and goalkeeper Quincy Kameraad are also in the squad.
Like Marañon, Sweden-based defender Jesper Nyholm. Amin Nazari, Matthew Custodio and Harry Foll will also make their Philippine debut.
Unfortunately, with the AFF Suzuki Cup held outside the FIFA international window, the Azkals will also miss some big names like Gerrit Holtmann, Patrick Strauss, Raphael Obermair, Michael Kempter and Neil Etheridge, who are all tied up with their respective clubs.
“This is a very prestigious tournament,” said national coach Scott Cooper. “We have a history of doing well and going to the semifinals, but we need to do more than that.
“We have to look at the last Suzuki Cup (in 2018) and that half of that schedule, was in the FIFA calendar. For this tournament, we have so many players unavailable and most of them were unable to be released by their clubs. We don’t have that luxury as other countries so we’re hoping that organizers look at the calendar in the future.”
Other players who are plying their wares overseas and were unable to secure a release from their clubs are Josh Grommen, Patrick Deyto and Randy Schneider.
The Philippines also suffered a huge blow with the late withdrawal of several players due to injuries in Jarvey Gayoso, Manny Ott, Carlie De Murga, brothers Michael and Matthew Baldissimo, Sebastian Rasmussen and Adrian Ugelvik.
Javier Patiño and Michael Falkesgaard have also retired from national team duties.
“It’s extremely difficult hence we have to temper our expectations,” said Cooper. “We have a nice squad and we have a new addition in Jesper Nyholm, whose season is finally finished, so we can bring him in and there’s couple of new faces coming in.”
Nonetheless, Cooper said the Azkals still need to be ambitious and “represent ourselves well.”
“We have a good squad, we must be positive and go on and show what we can do,” said Cooper.