MANILA - The Philippine Azkals will try to clinch a return trip to the semifinal round of the Asian football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup with a win over Turkmenistan in the tournament where only the top two teams of each group will advance to the crossover semifinals.
The country's national football team is currently tied in first place with Afghanistan with 4 points in Group B after notching a 2-0 victory over Laos on Thursday.
Their upcoming opponent, Turkmenistan, is coming off a stunning 3-1 defeat to Afghanistan - a team held to a goalless draw by the Philippines. The loss proved costly for the Turkmens as they dropped to third place with 3 points.
UP Maroons football coach Anto Gonzales said it will be important for the Azkals to collect more goals against Turkmenistan to secure a spot in the semifinals.
“Ang mangyayari kasi, dahil natabla natin ang Afghanistan, may probability na magkakaroon ng tie sa [final group] standings. Pag nagkaroon ng tie sa standings, the goal difference will come into play," he said on Thursday’s episode of ABS-CBN Sports+Action’s The Score.
“Ang goal difference, ito ang goal scored less goal scored against,” explained Gonzales. “Mas marami kang na-score, lamang ka sa goal difference, ikaw ang aangat na team.”
The Azkals has a goal difference of +2, same as Afghanistan which is why they are currently tied atop the standings of Group B.
The Filipino squad is hoping that it will have a better chance of winning against the Turkmens as the latter will be fielding a shorthanded roster on Saturday.
Turkmenistan saw its starting goalkeeper and captain Nikita Gorbunov and defender Serdar Annaorazov sent off due to straight red cards. As a result, Gorbunov and Annaorazov will be serving suspensions against the Philippines.
In addition, Turkmenistan will also be missing the services of defender Shorat Soyunov who received his second yellow card of the tournament in the loss to Afghanistan.
The Azkals likewise will be playing with an incomplete lineup. They lost Neil Etheridge and Juani Guirado due to injuries.
Gonzales believes Azkals coach Thomas Dooley rested key player Stephan Schrock early in the Laos match in preparation for a grind against Turkmenistan.
“Siguro Dooley felt that the 2-0 win [against Laos] is enough. Ang magiging approach nila sa Turkmenistan is definitely is to go for the win,” he said.
“Dapat hindi mawala ang focus nila na maglaro lang ng maigi at magfocus sa sistema na pinapagawa ni [Azkals coach Thomas] Dooley at sundin ang tactics,” added Gonzales.
The match on Saturday will be the fourth meeting between the Philippines and Turkmenistan.
The Turkmens won the first two meetings, including their 2012 AFC Challenge Cup semifinal encounter, where they scored two goals in the last ten minutes to beat the Philippines, 2 - 1.
The Azkals, however, prevailed in their last meeting in the Challenge Cup qualifiers held at Rizal Memorial Football Stadium last year with a 1-0 win.
ABS-CBN Sports+Action will broadcast Philippines vs Turkmenistan live on Saturday at 7 PM.