MANILA – Philippine Azkals coach Scott Cooper is hoping that the national team's under-23 group performs way better than expected in the qualifiers of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U23 Asian Cup.

The U23 Azkals are joined by defending champion South Korea, Singapore, and Timor Leste in Group H.

Singapore will host the Group H qualifier bubble from Oct. 23-31.

"We hope that our performance in the qualifiers will not be equivalent to our current seeding and that we can lift up our seeding for the future tournaments by having a far more respectable performance and better results as compared to what has been achieved in the past," Cooper said in a statement Saturday.

The Azkals, who despite having a solid senior squad are being scrutinized for having teams in the youth and grassroots not as great as their pro counterparts, were placed in Pot 4 during the group draw that took place on Friday at the AFC headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

However, having Timor Leste and Singapore in the U23 Azkals' group is favorable for Cooper.

"Singapore and Timor-Leste are two Southeast Asian sides that we’ve seen before at different levels," he said.

The winner of Group H will automatically qualify for the AFC U23 Asian Cup main tournament in Uzbekistan from June 1-19, 2022.

The second placer, however, could qualify if it is among the four best runners-up.

The Azkals Development Team, which played as a guest club in last year's Philippines Football League bubble season in Carmona, will make up the core of the U23 Azkals.

“This is a good gauge for the team which will form part of the core of the senior team in the future,” Philippine Football Federation president Nonong Araneta said.

Cooper added, "Hopefully we can strengthen our results together on the U23 level that we have never seen before just like in the senior team." (PNA)