The Philippines received a major boost ahead of their first appearance in the final stage of the AFC Asian Cup. Javier Patiño, their Spanish-bred striker, is in their 23-man roster.
A team official informed Goal that Patiño, who plays his club football in Thailand for Buriram United, will be available for the entire tournament.
The 30-year old was originally listed in the roster for the Philippines for the recently-concluded AFF Suzuki Cup but at the last minute begged off, citing a calf injury. This sparked some speculation that his club pressured him not to play. The Suzuki Cup was played mostly outside FIFA international windows.
Patiño's presence gives the Philippines added firepower since he has scored six goals for the Philippines in 14 appearances. The marksman joins mainstays Phil Younghusband, James Younghusband, Stephan Schrock, Manny Ott, Patrick Reichelt, Carlie de Murga, Daisuke Sato, Iain Ramsay, Alvaro Silva, and others. See the full roster here. https://twitter.com/philfootball/status/1078270577662554112
Another returning player is Stephan Palla, Patiño's teammate in Buriram. He sat on the bench for one game for the Azkals in the AFF Championship before reportedly jetting off to Thailand for the Buriram preseason camp.
The biggest omission is goalkeeper Neil Etheridge. It seems that the Cardiff City netminder will remain in Wales during the AFC Asian Cup. The Asian Cup is not played during FIFA windows so the Bluebirds were not required to release him. With the Welsh club just one spot above the drop zone in the EPL, coach Neil Warnock no doubt preferred that he stay in Britain.
Another curious absence is Martin Steuble. The Ceres Negros midfielder/defender started all six matches for the Philippines in the Suzuki Cup and scored versus Timor Leste. But the Filipino-Swiss is nowhere to be found in coach Sven Goran Eriksson's list of 23 for the AFC Asian Cup. It is not known if he is injured but he looked fit during the AFF championship.
Center back Amani Aguinaldo has also been left out. The Ceres defender played only one game for the Philippines in the Suzuki, starting alongside Carli de Murga and Alvaro Silva in a back 3 for the second leg of the semifinal series against Vietnam. Goal.com has learned that Aguinaldo will, however, be a reserve player and will be with the team in the UAE. He may be called into the squad if there are injuries to defenders.
Dennis Villanueva could have been an option at centre back but the Fil-Italian was sent off for violent conduct in the last qualifying game versus Tajikistan last March. That likely means he carries a two-match ban into the final stage, thus making his selection somewhat pointless.
Another player who told goal.com that he will be with the side is Jarvey Gayoso. The 21-year old homegrown striker was also on reserve duty during the Suzuki Cup and he will reprise that role in the UAE. Gayoso scored his maiden senior international goal for the Philippines in the Bangabandhu Gold Cup.
There are two players in the squad who were not a part of the AFF team. One is Filipino-Danish goalie Kevin Ray Mendoza. The 6'2” 24-year old is on the books of top Danish club AC Horsens.
Mendoza, who is listed as Kevin Ray Mendoza Hansen in the official documents of the AFC, has yet to make an appearance for the country of birth of his mother. However, it has been reported that the other Fil-Dane keeper on the squad, Michael Falkesgaard, is struggling with fitness. It will be interesting to see who will get the starting nod.
Mendoza has been described by one observer of Danish football as “a technically good goalkeeper who is very good with his feet.”
The same observer is also knowledgeable about Asian football and says that Mendoza could struggle with the Asian style of goalkeeping, where coming out on crosses is more prevalent. The source also said that philosophies on positioning and covering areas for defenders can be different in Asia and Europe. This could affect a goalkeeper's positioning as well.
Patrick Deyto, the Davao Aguilas keeper who started in place of an injured Falkesgaard for the second leg of the semis against Vietnam, recently had surgery for a chronic fracture dislocation in his right middle finger and thus is not available for selection. The third keeper in the team is Kaya Iloilo's Ace Villanueva.
The other non-Suzuki player is Miguel Tanton, also from Kaya Iloilo. Tanton, a Filipino-American, is a midfielder who is a wizard with the ball at his feet. He is also known for his elevated football IQ, playing a part in a goal that helped the Philippines beat North Korea in 2015.
Fitness could be a concern for Tanton, whose last competitive match was in late October when Kaya beat Davao in the Philippines Football League Cup final.
Right now the Azkals have proven attacking players and quality mids. But the two central defenders, Silva and De Murga, must be able to handle the speed of the opposing strikers at this level.
The Philippines opens with a tough game against the Korea Republic on January 7 in Dubai, faces China in Abu Dhabi on January 11, then winds up the group stage with a match against the Kyrgyz Republic back in Dubai on the 16th.
The Philippines has beaten Kyrgyzstan already but in their last meeting with China, last year were hammered 8-1. The odds for the Philippines are long against the Koreans, who stunned the 2014 World Champions Germany in last summer's World Cup.