Azkals upbeat, face Azerbaijan

By Olmin Leyba, The Philippine Star

Posted at Mar 04 2014 07:13 PM | Updated as of Mar 05 2014 03:13 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Azkals are in high spirits going to tomorrow’s friendly against world-rated Azerbaijan, gaining a lot of positives from their performance in the previous outing against in-form Malaysia.

Playing with drive and attacking style and flashing improved passing, the newcomer-laden Azkals battled a full-strength Malaysian side to a scoreless standoff, giving debuting coach Thomas Dooley his first win at the Phl bench.

Also giving a good account of himself was goalkeeper Patrick Deyto, who had a clean slate in his maiden start as well as first-time starters Ruben Doctora, Simone Rota and Martin Steuble.

“There are some excellent debut and there’s good initial understanding of new system,” said captain Rob Gier.

Dooley, a two-time World Cupper who took over last month, has been earning the team’s respect and thrust with his brand of coaching and style of play in the short time he’s been with the Azkals.

“Just the respect he commands because of his experience as a player is huge for us. He’s given us a lot of confidence. We’re learning so much from him,” said Jason de Jong.

Gier, who doubles as team scout, gave the German-American mentor props for his keen attention to detail.

“We’ve done a lot of discussions on how we want to play with coach and he wants us to play out of the backline as often as possible with short 1-2 passes,” said Gier.

The Azkals arrived in Dubai yesterday and spent time viewing Saturday’s friendly with Malaysia before plunging into practice for the Azerbaijan outing.

The big guns from overseas –Stephan Schrock, Roland Muller, Jerry Lucena and Javier Patino - are slated to follow and hook up with the time in time for Wednesday night’s gig with No. 93 Azerbaijan, the first European side Phl will play since 1997.

Dooley himself had conceded that there’s still a lot of room for improvement for the Azkals.

“It was a great game for us, because we could see what we were doing wrong. We talked a lot about things. I saw a lot of things that we did very well, for as long as we had the power and the legs,” Dooley said after the match with Malaysia.

Gier shared his enthusiasm.

“We’re a team in transition and there’s going to be mistakes. It’s going to be a steep learning curve before May (Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup) but the signs are positive,” Gier said.