MANILA, Philippines - The Azkals will face a familiar foe – Singapore – in the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup semifinals here this weekend, hoping to ride on a pair of pre-tournament victories against the Lions and also draw inspiration from hordes of supporters expected in their first home game.
The three-time Asean champ Lions topped Group B action Saturday night in the Kuala Lumpur side of the group stages after a come-from-behind 4-3 win over Laos, setting a Last-4 meeting with Group A runner-up Azkals.
It will be the third time for the Lions and the Azkals to mix it up this year, after friendlies in the run-up to the Cup. The Azkals won on both occasions, 2-0, in Singapore last September and 1-0 in Cebu last month.
This should give the Filipinos the psychological edge against the Lions entering Saturday night’s first leg at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium but Phl officials cautioned against taking Singapore lightly.
"It's anybody’s ballgame. Although we've beaten them twice in two friendlies, it doesn't mean anything now. We've seen how strong Singapore is, they beat Malaysia, 3-0 and Laos, 4-3, (in Group B)," said Philippine Football Federation president Nonong Araneta.
"And though they didn't score against us (in the friendlies), they scored seven goals in three games in the Suzuki Cup. This shows they are capable of scoring. So we have to try our best and make sure our defense is solid against them," he added.
Team manager Dan Palami said Phl should be wary of the Lions.
"Singapore has always been a strong team with a lot of quality," said Palami.
The Azkals are propped up to play their first Suzuki Cup home game, after yielding their home leg to rival Indonesia in the 2010 edition due to the absence of a suitable venue that time. Azkals lost that "home" game, 0-1, and eventually the semis match-up on goal aggregate 0-2.
"Any home game is an advantage for us. Talagang nararamdaman ang suporta ng kababayan at ginaganahan ang team. (You can feel the crowd support which feeds off on the team). Let's pack Rizal and fill it up with supporters and really try to get the result we want and onwards to the finals," said Palami.
Rizal, which has seen minor repairs lately, has been approved by the Asean Football Federation for the Azkals' home game, guaranteeing crowd support as they seek a good result before heading over to the Lions’ turf for the away leg on Dec. 12.
"Noong last Suzuki Cup, wala tayong home, puro away lang. Ito na ang chance natin na makabawi sa home game sa Suzuki Cup semis. Pangako namin, kung anong pinakita namin sa group stages, i-improve pa namin (We didn't have a home game in the last Suzuki Cup, only away games. This is our chance to get homefield advantage in the semis and we promised a much better performance than what we dished out in the group stages)," said captain Chieffy Caligdong.
The Azkals finished second to unbeaten host Thailand in Group A to reach the Last-4, gaining from their huge 1-0 disposal of Vietnam and 2-0 drubbing of Myanmar to secure a return trip to the semis.