Two Azkals look to fulfill mission in AFF Suzuki Cup

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 7) – Two Philippine Azkals players are looking to fulfill their personal missions in the upcoming AFF Suzuki Cup in Singapore.

Kevin Ray Mendoza targets to have more experience with the national football team as he aspires to be the squad's starting goalkeeper in the biennial regional tournament.

"I really want to, of course, play. I hope that this is gonna be the time that I'm gonna start. I just hope that it will be me," Mendoza said in an interview with Who The Heck Are We? Podcast hosted by Claro Manzano and Claudia Perrine. 

The Filipino-Danish goalie has made his case to be in the starting 11 of the Azkals in the AFF Suzuki Cup after he became a big factor in Kuala Lumpur City FC's title conquest of the 2021 Malaysia Cup.

Mendoza was named as the man of the match in their 2-0 victory over Malaysian club powerhouse Johor Darul Ta'zim in the finals. He notched a clean sheet after superb saves in their opponent's goal attempts to help end KL City FC's 32-year title drought.

The 27-year-old Mendoza was part of the Azkals lineup that competed in the 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers last June, where he made his international debut as a substitute in the squad's 1-1 draw against Maldives.

Meanwhile, defender Daisuke Sato will be making his return to the Azkals as one of the tested players in the backline.

"I'm very proud to be here. For me, I feel like the Philippines gave me everything. If I have the chance, I always try to give something back to the country," Sato said in an interview with the Philippine Football Federation. 

Sato, who last played for the Philippines in the first window of the joint 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers in 2019, faced a personal loss heading to his comeback with the national football team.

The Filipino-Japanese defender's father died last month, and he expressed his profound grief in his social media accounts during the past few days.

Sato said he considers the upcoming tournament "special" as he wants not only his late Japanese father to be proud of him, but also the Filipino football fans.

"I really wanted him to see me play. But where I am now, I will try to make him proud as much as possible," an emotional Sato said. "I want to make the people proud, very happy. If I do that, my dad will be so happy."

Sato is currently part of Thai League club Suphanburi and has played in leagues in Romania and Denmark.

The Azkals will open their AFF Suzuki Cup campaign against host Singapore on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m.