MANILA, Philippines — Philippine Azkals co-captain Chieffy Caligdong and veteran defender Rob Gier remain doubtful for the international friendly against Malaysia on Feb. 29 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
Caligdong is still undergoing therapy for his injured knee and could skip the match to focus on his fitness in time for the AFC Challenge Cup in Kathmandu, Nepal, starting March 9.
“I think I’m making progress because I can do sprints now, but I still can’t put a lot of power on my kicks,” said Caligdong, the recipient of the Philippine Sportswriters’ Association’s Mr. Football Award along with Azkals teammate Phil Younghusband.
Gier is nursing a calf problem, but the Filipino-British defender said he could have come on as a substitute against Australia’s Olympic Team in the last match of the Azkals’ training camp in Dubai Thursday night.
“I’m feeling better, but its also difficult to take the risk (of aggravating the injury),” said Gier. “It’s better to be injured now than in the Challenge Cup.”
With Gier unlikely to play, the Azkals will parade the same backline in the last two matches of the camp in the in-form Jason Sabio, Juani Guirado, Ray Jonsson and Carli de Murga.
First-choice goalkeeper Neil Etheridge has already confirmed his participation in the friendly against the reigning Suzuki Cup champions, which will mark the final game before the Azkals plunge into action in the Challenge Cup.
Also returning to the Azkals fold are Netherlands-based Jason de Jong and brothers Phil and James Younghusband, who missed the Australia match because of a prior commitment.
“I think we will still have a very good team against Malaysia,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami. “As much as we would want Rob and Chieffy to play, we are more worried of their fitness level for the Challenge Cup.”
Meanwhile, the Philippine Under-21 side reinforced by senior team players Nestorio Margarse and Jerry Barbaso left for Brunei yesterday to vie in the Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy.
The 11-nation tournament will mark the first time Serbian coach Zoran Dordevic will handle the side formed only two months ago.
“This is good exposure for our young players as we start our build-up for next year’s SEA Games,” said Palami, who also manages the U-21 team.
SEA Games stalwarts Joshua Beloya and Marwin Angeles, who are already regulars in the senior side, will play the first two matches, including the opener against Indonesia on Friday, before returning to Manila in time for the friendly against Malaysia.