Maranon, Hartmann eyed to lead PH in Vietnam SEAG; Holtmann to make Azkals debut this month

Originally published by CNN Philippines

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 12) – Significant developments are underway for the Philippine Azkals in their upcoming competitions this year.

For the squad that will be sent to the 31st Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi, Vietnam in May – Azkals team manager Dan Palami said they are considering veterans to shore up their attack line.

In the biennial sports meet, only booters aged under 23 are allowed to compete, but a country can include up to two senior players in its lineup.

Palami said they are considering Azkals naturalized striker Bienvenido Marañon and veteran national team member Mark Hartmann to bolster the squad's chances of a medal finish.

"Our back four is now solid. Our midfielders, we have good and experienced players there already. The strikers' position, that's where we feel we need to augment our manpower so that's where we will focus on," Palami said on Friday.

The 35-year-old Marañon had a rousing Azkals debut last December where he became the team's top scorer with four goals, despite missing a slot in the semifinals.

Marañon - also the leading goal scorer in the AFC Cup - is currently playing with Johor Darul Ta'zim in the Malaysian Super League.

Hartmann – who last saw action in an Azkals kit in their joint 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers in June – will lead the returning United City FC in the Copa Paulino Alcantara 2022 starting next week.

Palami added most of the Azkals Development Team players will form part of the men's national football team in the Vietnam SEAG.

The Azkals team manager also revealed that Filipino German footballer Gerrit Holtmann has confirmed to suit up for the Philippines in a mini tournament with Singapore and Malaysia later this month.

Holtmann has been making waves as a winger for Bundesliga club VFL Bochum - highlighted by his stunning goal against Mainz last Aug. 21, which bagged the 2021 Bundesliga Goal of the Year Award.

"Holtmann has already responded and has already made arrangements for his flights going to Singapore," said Palami, who also bared they have been convincing Holtmann to play for the Philippines for two years before he accepted the offer.

Palami said the tri-nation meet is an important step to build up the squad ahead of their 2023 Asian Cup third qualification campaign. They will face Mongolia, Palestine, and Yemen in Group B of the continental qualifiers slated in June.

"We will be using this particular tournament to determine the squad that we'll be using for the Asian Cup qualifiers in Mongolia this June," he said.

Palami also said new discoveries Diego Bardanca and Enrique Linares are expected to attend the training camp before the pocket tournament.

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