Sven-Goran Eriksson
Philippines national football team's head coach Sven-Goran Eriksson. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: Philippines national football team coach Sven-Goran Eriksson is confident his side will mark a memorable debut by advancing past the group stages of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.

The ‘Azkals’ (Street Dogs), who take on 2018 Asian Games gold medallists South Korea in their opener in Dubai on Monday, have been training under the watchful eyes of the 70-year-old Swede and former coach of Dubai’s Al Nasr Club.

Eriksson, who during his coaching career has managed some of the world’s top footballing nations — including England, Mexico and Ivory Coast — has been handed a six-month contract by the Philippines.

“I am not here as a magician. My job is to set targets and see how we can collectively achieve these,” Eriksson told Gulf News after a late evening training session on Friday.

“I’ve got experience looking after so many club teams in this region and in East Asia. But all this means nothing when you look at the opponents we have in our group. The challenge is huge and I am confident that we can stick together and go about achieving this,” he added.

The Philippines has never been known as a football-loving nation given its history and fanatic following of basketball.

However, the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) has called up for duty foreign-based players of Filipino parentage.

Rough estimates are that in the current squad of 23, as many as 18 were born outside the Philippines — of which at least nine are plying their trade outside the country.

“We hope we can go through to the second stage of such a big competition. We know it’s very difficult as we start against one of the toughest opponents South Korea on Monday. Our players are very good and one of the problems is that the Philippines is not a great football nation as unfortunately, basketball is [perceived as] more important,” Eriksson remarked.

“I think this generation of players have a golden opportunity to change that concept. We will see what happens in this tournament. My advice to the team is that they should enjoy themselves as this is the first time that they are playing in such a big tournament. I think that if they can stand up to the other teams, starting with South Korea, we can have the possibility of advancing to the knockout stages,” he added.

Eriksson was not worried about the limited frame he has with the Azkals.

“It would be better to have a longer contract. But it is the norm these days that many national teams take on coaches for a short period. Perhaps, there are positives and negatives here but the truth is that a coach needs more time to work with his team,” he noted.

“This is the biggest competition we can play. There are 24 teams in this competition for the first. It’s like a football party and we have this opportunity to change things for Philippines’ football,” he added.