MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Azkals will need to win at least 2 out of 3 games in the group stage to make it to the main draw of the Asian Football confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup tournament proper in 2012.
Unlike the Philippines’ qualifying tie against Mongolia, where they battled in a home-and-away series, the group stage will pit the Azkals against three teams in their bracket.
The Azkals will face national teams from Myanmar, Bangladesh and Palestine.
The Myanmar White Angels are currently ranked No. 161 in FIFA’s world standings.
The Bangladesh Bengal Tigers are ranked No. 174, while Palestine’s Al-Fusan (The Fighters) are ranked 178th.
The Philippines, ranked No. 151, has the highest ranking in the bracket.
The following will be the tentative schedule for the Azkals’ group stage games.
- · March 21 (Mon) - PHI vs. Myanmar, 3:30 p.m.;
- · March 23 (Wed) - PHI vs. Palestine, 3:30 p.m;
- · March 25 (Fri) - PHI vs. Bangladesh, 6 p.m.
All games will be held in Myanmar.
Azkals' Filipino-British striker Phil Younghusband, meanwhile, remains doubtful of playing in the group stage.
Younghusband, a vital cog in the Azkals’ offense, suffered a pulled hamstring during their 1-2 loss to Mongolia on Tuesday. He was not able to finish the game because of the injury.
“Hindi ko alam kung pwedeng maglaro sa Myanmar... sana makapaglaro ako," he said.
It might take weeks before his injury can be fully healed.
Azkals German coach, Hans Michael Weiss, said it is too early to say if Younghusband will have to sit out the group stage.
“We don't have a final medical examination yet. When we get to Manila, he will get immediate treatment from our doctors,” he said.
If the injury turns out to be superficial, Younghusband can still play in the Myanmar games.
“We have a small chance of having him in the team,” Weiss said.
Weiss said he is already preparing for their alternate players who can take Younghusband’s place.
“We will have two strikers, one from Germany, William Espinosa and [Angel] Aldeguer from Spain. We will have to try to make up for Phil's injury,” he said.
Also returning to the Azkals line-up are Filipino-British players Niel Etheridge and Rob Gier. They will be joined by another new addition, Patrick Hinrichsen from Germany.
The Azkals were still able to advance to the group stage because of a 3-2 aggregate.
The Filipino booters were enjoying a 2-0 lead over the Mongolians before their 1-2 loss in Ulan Bator.
Weiss said the team gained a lot from their experience going into the Mongolia game.
Aside from enduring inconveniences in their team practice in Japan, the Azkals had to battle the Mongolians in sub-zero conditions in Ulan Bator.
“I think the team has learned a lot from these past couple of weeks,” said Weiss.
"I am positive we will make it to the Top 2 in Myanmar.”
The Azkals are expected to arrive in Manila early Thursday morning. -- With a report from Dyan Castillejo, ABS-CBN News