MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Azkals play their only home game in the runup to the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup, battling regular customer Malaysia tonight at Cebu City Sports Center and hoping to get a good send-off before their big mission.
The match is set at 7 p.m. with coach Thomas Dooley parading a new-look crew that wants to impress as the team moves forward with its preparations for next month’s Challenge Cup.
“It’s good to have a home game before the Challenge Cup,” Dooley said during yesterday’s pre-match presscon at Parklane International Hotel.
It will be the first international friendly at home for the Azkals coach and he hopes they make the most out of it.
“Hope we have a sold out crowd tomorrow. Obviously it’s the game for us to prepare for the Challenge Cup. We will test a lot; it won’t be easy. We have players coming in to show the team and the fans what we can do,” he said.
The Azkals won’t have regulars like Phil Younghusband, who is nursing an injury and defenders Rob Gier and Juani Guirado, who have family commitments, as well as the stalwarts based in Europe, prompting Dooley to test new faces and returnees for the match against the Malayan Tigers.
Jovin Bedic got his first call-up while Carli de Murga, Roxy Dorlas, and Patrick Deyto return to the fold to hook up with Anton del Rosario, James Younghusband, Ed Sacapano, Patrick Reichelt, Ruben Doctora Jr., Simone Rota and Curt Dizon.
Fil-Danish Jerry Lucena and Fil-Swiss Martin Steuble are reinforcing the squad.
“We have the best team available right now that we can get. That means I have a lot of confidence in every single player to do what we ask for. We will see what happens in the match,” said Dooley.
“We have injuries and unavailable players but this is always a good chance for players in the lineup to show that they deserve to be on the field,” he added.
Lucena and Steuble got clearances from Esbjerg fB and FC Wil 1990, respectively, to join Phl XI and are expected to provide leadership and experience.
“Jerry and Martin will play. They are some of our key players in our midfield and they will start if they don’t get injured in training. I’m very happy to have those two experienced players,” Dooley said.
This will serve as the return leg of Phl vs Malaysia. Last March, they battled for a scoreless deadlock in Selangor, Malaysia. That “away” match became the venue for Deyto to show his stuff in front of the goal, quashing the attempts of full-strength Malaysia.
“We were lucky against them last time. We had a couple of moments where we could have scored. Overall, the fans need to see a nice football game tomorrow,” Dooley said.
The World Cup veteran, who came on board last February, expressed belief the Azkals’ buildup for the AFC Asian Cup-qualifying Challenge Cup is on the right track.
“I have so far 30 players who can play and I’m very happy with the performance of the players. I knew that they can play the kind of soccer I want them to play,” he said.