Schrock the Pinoy rock
Azkals star sends warning to Singapore and rivals ahead of Suzuki Cup
Philippine star Stephan Schrock has issued a warning to Singapore for the Suzuki Cup and the Lions will do well to take heed.
"The most important thing for me is to win the Suzuki Cup," the 30-year-old German-born midfielder told The New Paper, ahead of the two sides' Group A clash in Manila on Saturday, which will kick off this year's edition of the biennial tournament.
"We want that championship. Not only because we have home advantage (as tournament co-hosts).
"But also because our squad are the best we have had... It's up to the coaches and the management to put the puzzle together."
This statement of intent, five days before the opener on Saturday, shows he means serious business.
Once minnows in South-east Asia, the Philippines are now ranked the top side in Asean, with a Fifa world ranking of 124.
Thailand, four-time Suzuki Cup champions, are ranked 146th, while Singapore - also four-time winners - are in 171st spot.
The other team in Group A are 179th-ranked Indonesia.
Over the last five years, the Philippines have tapped on their global diaspora and shed their tag as the region's whipping boys.
Blessed with great technical ability and a feisty competitive streak, Schrock, who has made almost 250 appearances in the top two divisions of German football, with Greuter Fuerth, Hoffenheim and Eintracht Frankfurt.
Schrock, who is currently on loan at Philippine side Ceres la Salle from Greuter Fuerth, is just one of the star names who have powered the Azkals in recent years.
Others include London-born goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, who plays for Walsall and once turned out for Fulham and Charlton Athletic - although the shot-stopper will not play at the Suzuki Cup as he is not released by his club.
Surrey-born Phil and James Younghusband, however - the Azkals' posterboys over the last decade who were once on the books of Premier League giants Chelsea - are set to play key roles once again.
Schrock has no doubt that the Azkals are good enough to make history.
The furthest they have gone at the Suzuki Cup is the semi-finals, which they reached three consecutive times from 2010 to 2014.
"Of course we are (good enough)," he said. "Anyway, I don't play in any tournament targeting to be a semi-finalist or just to participate.
"I want to win. And the whole team want to win as well."
Despite making his debut for the Philippines in July 2011, this will be Schrock's first appearance at the Suzuki Cup.
He missed the 2012 edition because he was not released by Hoffenheim for the tournament, which does not fall on Fifa's list of dates for international matches.
He did not play two years later after falling out with Azkals' coach Thomas Dooley.
But he apologised in March 2015 and mended fences with the American coach, and is poised to play a key role for the co-hosts this time.
The Philippines have scored some impressive results this year, like a double triumph over world No. 99 Kyrgyzstan (2-1 in September and 1-0 last week), a 3-2 win over North Korea in March, as well as a narrow defeat by Uzbekistan (1-0), ranked 48th in the world.
Schrock also knows the Singapore players well, as his current club Ceres faced a Tampines Rovers side packed with national players four times this season in the RHB Singapore Cup and the continental AFC Cup tournament.
The former German youth international is aware that the Lions have not posted the most convincing of results recently, but is wary of what V Sundramoorthy's men - as well as the other teams in Group A - can do.
"All teams are dangerous," claimed Schrock, who was the top scorer in the Singapore Cup with seven goals from five games.
"Indonesia, there's a big question mark over them (after a year-long ban by Fifa that was lifted in May) but they've had some very nice results recently.
"Singapore have already proven they can win a major tournament like the Suzuki Cup. To me, Thailand are still the dominant team in South-east Asia.
"So I'm sure it will be a tough group, just as how everybody has predicted it will be.
"But, like I said, we are out to win."