MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Azkals hope to keep the momentum of their strong showing against fancied Bahrain as they gun for a favorable result tonight against Kuwait at the Kuwait Sports Club Stadium in Kaifan.
On a high after forcing the 115th-ranked Bahrain to a goal-less standoff last Friday at the latter’s own backyard, the No. 147 Azkals take on the 112th-ranked Al-Azraq at 6:50 p.m. (11:50 p.m. Manila time), determined to pull off another surprising performance.
Four players who missed the Bahrain fixture will be on hand for the Al-Azraq challenge: Fil-British goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, Fil-British Phil and James Younghusband, and Fil-Spanish Angel Guirado, who’s making his first appearance for the national side since bringing his wares to the Indian league.
This will also be the first time for Phl XI and the Kuwait footballers to face off since Al-Azraq nipped the Azkals in their two-leg 2014 Fifa World Cup Asian Qualifiers second round matchup, 3-0, at home, and 2-1 in Manila for a 5-1 win on aggregate last July 2011.
“It’s interesting to see how we’ll fare against a quality opponent like Kuwait and also gauge how far we have progressed since the last time we played them,” said team manager Dan Palami.
After that loss to powerhouse Kuwait, the Azkals have achieved some breakthroughs, copping a milestone bronze in the AFC Challenge Cup in Nepal last March and winning a first international title in 99 years, the four-nation Philippine Football Peace Cup, last month.
The Pinoy booters have also made a creditable showing in Fifa friendlies on the road, including a 2-0 triumph over Singapore last month, which helped them reach their highest ever Fifa ranking at 147th.
As part of preparations for the AFF Suzuki Cup, the Azkals embarked on a training camp in the Middle East, capping their sessions in Manama with a draw with Bahrain. From there, they flew in to Kuwait City for the second part of their Gulf camp, to be culminated by the showdown with Al-Azraq.
“You could clearly see the team still needs cohesion. They still need a few more practices and games together but I like how the team is evolving,” said Palami.