Azkals top choice in AFC Challenge Cup

By Olmin Leyba, The Philippine Star

Posted at May 19 2014 08:49 AM | Updated as of May 19 2014 04:49 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Although they’ve been installed as “popular choice” to rule this week’s AFC Challenge Cup in an online poll, the Philippine Azkals expect no easy time against rivals who are as prepared and as determined to win the crown in the May 19-30 Asian Cup-qualifying tourney in Maldives.

“All the teams in this tournament are strong and (there are) no easy games in this competition,” Azkals striker Phil Younghusband told the Maldivian website upon the team’s arrival in the island nation.

“We have to do our homework and research on the other teams and make sure we know their weaknesses and strengths.”

The Azkals were leading the poll being conducted on the website of the 2015 Asian Cup, which asked who will secure the final qualification spot in the Asian Cup that’s at stake in the Maldives Challenge Cup. Phl got 703 votes or 38.95 percent of the total respondents’ nod on the eve of the bootfest, followed by Afghanistan with 400 votes (22.16 percent) and Palestine with 220 votes (12.19 percent).

The Pinoy booters will open their campaign in Group B Tuesday night in Addu City against Afghanistan, a higher-ranked opponent who will also be parading stalwarts based in Europe.

The Afghans, who stand 12 rungs higher than Phl at 128th in the International Football Federation’s world rankings, will be beefed by six pros playing in the fourth and fifth divisions in Germany, namely Mansur Faqiryar of VfB Oldenburg, Djelaludin Sharityar of 1. FC Schweinfurt 05, Zamir Daudi of TGM SV Jügesheim, Mustafa Azadzoy of TB Uphusen, Mustafa Zazai of FC St. Pauli ll, and Mustafa Hadid of Altona 93.

Afghanistan is coming off a banner year in 2013, having topped the South Asian title for the first time.

“We won the last edition of SAFF Championship and it’s really good. Our main target is now to win AFC Challenge Cup and Insha Allah I hope we will win this tournament,” said team captain Zohib Islam Amirim.

After Afghanistan, the Azkals will face fellow Asean bet Laos, which hasn’t lost to Phl in head-to-head duels – on Thursday, then they will take on Turmenistan, which plays Russian-style, on Saturday, seeking to hurdle their foes to advance to the semis.

Azkals coach Thomas Dooley has brought in the top guns from Europe, led by Stephan Schrock, to join forces with standouts of the United Football League.