THE PHILIPPINES steps up its preparations for the AFC Challenge Cup next year with a showdown with Southeast Asian rival Indonesia at Manahan Stadium in Surakarta, Indonesia, tonight.
The Azkals, who arrived in the city early Tuesday after a 15-hour journey from Manila, will be fielding several new players with manager Dan Palami also using the match to expose standouts from the Under-23 side, which is building up for the Southeast Asian Games late this year.
Kickoff is at 9 p.m. with Indonesia looking to continue asserting its might against the Azkals, who have climbed three places to their highest ranking of No. 141.
It will be the fourth meeting between the two sides since 2010, when the Azkals lost two semifinal matches against the Garuda in the Suzuki Cup. The two squads also battled to a tense 2-2 draw at Rizal Memorial Stadium in June 2012.
“We are looking forward to jump-starting our preparations for the AFC Challenge Cup,” said Palami. “This time, we’re sending fresh faces as we try to take advantage of the occasion to test younger players.”
Mark Hartmann, Amani Aguinaldo, Paolo Bugas and Patrick Deyto were among the Under-23 standouts who were included in the squad by coach Michael Weiss, who also recalled veterans Angel Guirado, Rob Gier, Chieffy Caligdong and Phil and James Younghusband to strengthen the side.
Indonesia has shown a penchant of naturalizing foreign players to boost its squad.
The latest players who were given their Indonesian naturalization papers are the Nigerian pair of Gregory Nkwolo and Victory Ibonefo.
The Indonesians will also parade the fleet-footed Andik Vermansyah, a young midfielder who showed immense potential in the Suzuki Cup, and Patrich Wanggai, who scored against the Azkals in the friendly last year.
“We know that they have put naturalized players in their roster and I’m sure this made them stronger,” said Palami.