MANILA, Philippines - Fil-Danish Jerry Lucena is set to rejoin the Azkals and add maturity and stability in the midfield, something that was glaringly missing, especially in the first half, in the Philippines' scoreless draw with Singapore in the first leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup semifinal in Manila last Saturday.
Lucena, absent in the Azkals' historic home game at Rizal Memorial due to club commitment, meets up with his teammates today in Singapore, giving him enough time to shake off jet lag and link up with the rest of the Azkals in time for Wednesday night’s second leg at Jalan Besar Stadium.
"Having Jerry Lucena in the second leg will definitely give us more proposition in midfield and build 'kalma' (calm) in buildup time," said Azkals coach Michael Weiss.
Without Lucena, the Azkals' midfield was largely in disarray against the visiting Lions, particularly in the first 45 minutes, where the home team fumbled on possessions and got lucky the Lions didn’t hit the target in spite of numerous chances.
"Our midfield in the first half was weak, to be honest," said Weiss, who made an adjustment at the interval, sending in Marwin Angeles in place of Jason de Jong, to try to change the complexion of the match and create offensive chances.
"If the midfield doesn't show up and distribute balls very well, you end up with loose balls and you end up playing defensively with no time to create chances," he added.
The Azkals regrouped and took the fight to the visitors in the final half but they failed to cash in on their scoring opportunities.
Still, Weiss said the scoreless draw is a "good result" as they didn't concede an "away" goal, which could play a big factor in case the second leg ends up in another stalemate.
Under the home-and-away format, if the two teams finish the second leg tied on goal aggregate, the one with the higher “away” goal will advance.
"With a victory or a draw with goal, we're through. That’s what we’ll be working on," he said.
"Now, the ball is in Singapore. They have to do something. They have to be more active and that gives us chances for counterattack."
The Lions will naturally gun for the win at home.
"We had our chances in the first half and we were more creative but this happens. We are still in a good position, though. If we win in Singapore then we are in the finals," said coach Radojko Avramovic.
Weiss said the key between now and Wednesday night is to make sure his wards heal and refresh their aching bodies from the bruising match.
"What's important is recovery time. How quickly do you recover and we have to replenish energy and get back in good shape. But overall, I regard my chances as very good," he said.
He also expects Cagara, who played just 24 hours since arriving from Denmark, to be 100 percent and "very strong" for the return match.