CEBU CITY, Philippines – The Philippine Azkals bring their act to the Queen City of the South, tackling the Singapore Lions tonight in an international friendly that may well give a glimpse of how ready they are for next week's AFF Suzuki Cup.
"It's important to know how my players will perform. I want to see how mentally prepared they are and how they will stand on pressure," said Azkals coach Michael Weiss in yesterday's press con for the historic event dubbed: "Face Off" at the Cebu Parklane International Hotel.
The Azkals will be parading the crew that won the Philippine Football Peace Cup last September, led by Denis Wolf, Patrick Reichelt, Chieffy Caligdong, Ed Sacapano, Marwin Angeles and Jeff Christiaens, reinforced by Phil and James Younghusband, Rob Gier, Juani Guirado, Chris Greatwich, and Cebuano-Icelandic Ray Jonsson.
"We're looking forward to a nice game, a high-performance level match. This is our final tune-up for the Suzuki Cup and we're happy to have a strong opponent in Singapore here in Cebu," said Weiss.
Adding local flavor to the 7 p.m. match is the presence of goalkeeper Paolo Pascual, defender Jonsson and Reichelt, who are all eager to flaunt their skills before their fellow Cebuanos.
The Azkals look to duplicate their monumental 2-0 conquest of Singapore in a previous friendly last September, this time in front of an enthusiastic crowd in Cebu.
"We have the home advantage and a sold-out stadium but apart from that, we know we’re a strong team and I believe some of my players will shine tomorrow (today)," said Weiss.
The Singapore side of coach Radojko Avramovic came fresh from a training stint in Japan, which was highlighted by a tune-up match with J-League side Shimizu S-Pulse last Saturday. They lost that one, 0-2.
"We're happy to take this game. We hope that at least we can give our part. We’re hoping that when people go out of the stadium, they will be satisfied with what they see," said coach "Raddy."
The two nations are in the stretch of their preparations for the Suzuki Cup, where the Azkals are bracketed with co-host Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar in Group A while three-time champs Lions are bunched with co-host Malaysia, Indonesia and Laos n Group B.
Azkals team manager Dan Palami, along with his players at Global FC and the Younghusbands and Anto Gonzales of Loyola Meralco Sparks rejoined the team after figuring in Tuesday night's UFL Cup semifinals at Rizal Memorial. Global, playing without eight stalwarts who stayed behind with the national team, tripped the Sparks, 2-1, to reach the final.
"I hope that the investment of Global in the national team, by not allowing players to play in the semis, will help the Azkals against Singapore," said Palami, whose club let only Marvin Angeles and Matthew Uy leave the Cebu camp to play the UFL semis.
Meanwhile, Cebu Football Association (CFA) vice president Rico Navarro said tickets for the landmark event in Cebu football have already been sold out.
"We expect a sellout crowd tomorrow (today). I advise the public to come early and I am also requesting them not to bring any foreign object including mineral water bottles," said Navarro.
Gates will open at exactly 3 p.m.
A substantial but undisclosed number of policemen and augmentation force will be deployed at the playing area and at the grandstand to ensure the welfare and safety of everyone. – With report from Emmanuel Villaruel/The Freeman Newspaper