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Thomas Dooley plays down Philippines’ AFC Challenge Cup contention

Dubai: New Philippines coach Thomas Dooley has denied his team are one of the favourites heading into the AFC Challenge Cup despite improved performances in recent friendly matches.

The Azkals, or Street Dogs, followed up last week’s goalless draw away to Malaysia by impressing in a 1-0 defeat against higher-ranked Azerbaijan at Dubai’s Al Shabab Stadium on Wednesday.

Elvin Yunuszade separated the two sides just before the half-hour mark, heading in a corner from Vagif Javadov.

The Philippines were using the game — Dooley’s second in charge since replacing Michael Weiss last month — to prepare for the AFC Challenge Cup in May.

Having reached the semi-finals in their last appearance in the tournament in 2012, the Azkals are now targeting outright victory in order to qualify for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup for the first time in their history.

But despite putting up a good fight against Berti Vogts’ side, who are 34 positions higher than 127th-placed Philippines in the world rankings, Dooley said an AFC Challenge Cup win over lesser-ranked Asian nations was anything but guaranteed.

“There are no favourites in the Challenge Cup,” said German-American Dooley, who represented the USA in the 1994 Fifa World Cup. “When you go into the DFB Cup [German Cup] and play against a fourth-division side in the first round, if you don’t take it seriously you’re out.

“Colombia were one of the favourites in the ‘94 World Cup and we [the USA] beat them 2-1. Whatever they say about rankings, you have to take it serious from the first minute of preparation and play like we did against those guys [Azerbaijan] tonight.

“We want to play against bigger teams [like Azerbaijan] that’s our goal, but do we think we are favourites [for the AFC Challenge Cup]? We have to show we want to win, and can win, from scoring goals. Only then will we see how far we can go.”

Meanwhile, Azkals team manager Dan Palami said what he saw of the team in Dooley’s first two games in charge bodes well for the future.

“The fact that we gave Malaysia and Azerbaijan a really good fight speaks well of the coach, who has almost performed a miracle considering the short time he has had with the squad,” said Palami. “If we have this kind of style inside six training sessions, imagine what will happen when the team has more time together. In the context of our preparation for the AFC Challenge Cup, this can only augur well for us come May.”