The Philippines national football team popularly known as 'Azkals' are headed to Dubai next month for a 11-day training camp to prepare for the AFC Challenge Cup.
The squad which comprises Fulham goalkeeping prospect Neil Etheridge, Bundesliga players Stefan Schrock and Manuel Ott in addition to Paul Mulders of ADO Den Haag in the Netherlands, are expect to land in Dubai on February 5.
They are scheduled to play three matches in UAE with the first against reigning Serbian SuperLiga champions Partizan Belgrade scheduled on February 6 in Abu Dhabi with a 7.30pm kick-off.
The visit is sure to attract interest from the estimated 500,000 Filipinos expatriates in the UAE as they bring their star players from clubs across Europe and the USA.
With matches to be played in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and possibly Sharjah or Al Ain, it will give Azkal fans from all over the UAE the best chance of seeing their heroes in action.
Azkals head coach Michael Weiss is bringing his side over as preparation for the upcoming Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup.
He said: "We very much look forward to the test of the high level of football which is now coming out of the Middle East and fast becoming attractive to the Europeans. As a developing nation it’s important to get this experience."
On bringing his team to the Emirate, Weiss said: "The location is much better for our European-based players as they only have to travel for six hours. It’s a great opportunity to get everyone together ahead of the AFC Challenge Cup where we hope to at least reach the semifinals.
"Dubai is a great place to visit; I’ve been a couple of times in the last year and have friends at the UAE FA so know how far football has come in those parts. In February, the temperature will be nice and we are eager and happy to meet the Filipino community there."
After the recent devastation caused by monsoons in the southern Philippines the coach understands firsthand the positive effect football can have on the Filipino people.
"We played in a charity game this week for the victims of the disaster and 10,000 people packed the stands. It’s crazy how passionate the people are and it’s a rapidly growing market. Many people don’t have very much but they are happy with what they do have and the players are local heroes. Even when we lose they’re happy with the effort the players make. But on a professional level, I want to win."
With three exciting friendly games to be announced shortly, Eric Gottschalk, the CEO of organisers MEDIAPRO Middle East, said: "It will be an opportunity for the Filipino community based in the UAE to come together and celebrate their national pride.
"The pricing structure of the games is designed in order to make the games accessible to everyone and help create a real party atmosphere with ticket prices starting as low as Dh50."
The visit won’t be just football based either as Gottschalk explains: "We want to give the team a real feel for the UAE and Dubai in particular. I’m sure they will be training hard but they will have an opportunity to see the sights and visit some of their compatriots in their adopted homeland."
The organisers are anticipating the trip will capture the imagination of UAE residents, particularly those from the Asian community. A similar event in Bahrain in 2011 drew almost 30,000 spectators, emphasising the pull of the national team outside of the Philippines.