Philippine Azkals out to finish strong, battle Palestine for thirdBy Cedelf P. Tupas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
KATHMANDU—Their title hopes already extinguished, the Philippine Azkals look to fly home with the next best thing in the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup as they battle Palestine for third place Monday night at the Dashrath Stadium.
Azkals coach Michael Weiss expects no letup from his squad with three key players—James Younghusband, Angel Guirado and Jason Sabio—returning to the Azkals’ fold after missing the 1-2 defeat to Turkmenistan.
“We will treat the match like a final,” said Weiss, whose side has already accomplished the best finish by the country in this tournament for Asia’s emerging football nations.
“I’m sure the team wants to get out of this tournament with a bang.”
But the Azkals will miss first-choice goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, who is serving a one-match suspension for because of his injury-time red card against Turkmenistan.
Taking over on goal is Eduard Sacapano, a standout of the Philippine Army, who earns his first full international appearance since the 1-2 loss to Mongolia in prequalifying in Ulan Bator in March last year.
Sacapano is relishing his opportunity, having been on the bench for quite some time as Etheridge and Roland Muller have taken turns in the starting position.
“I’m just happy I’m getting my chance at such an important match,” said Sacapano.
Younghusband and Guirado, who were reduced to spectators against Turkmenistan after picking up two yellow cards in the group stage, will be back in the lineup along with Sabio, who has been bothered by knee pains.
The Azkals trained for the last time in the Nepalese capital Sunday, showing none of the emotional residue after the heartbreaker against Turkmenistan Friday night.
“I think the players are mature enough to brush this off,” said Weiss. “Winning third place means we are more stabilized.”
Palestine reached the semifinals with two wins over Nepal and Maldives in Group A, but the West Asians rammed into a powerhouse North Korean side, 0-2, in the semifinals, the same scoreline when the Azkals lost to the defending champions in the group stage.
The Philippines and Palestine actually battled to a scoreless draw in the qualifying stage in Myanmar last year, but the Azkals have a better, formidable side this time.
Creative midfielder Paul Mulders and striker Phil Younghusband, who formed a potent combination up front against Turkmenistan, did not play in that match in Rangoon.
Younghusband, the tournament’s leading scorer with four goals, stressed the importance of the match for the sport in the country.
“Getting third place is an achievement in itself for Philippine football,” he said. “(A win) will not replace the feeling of losing in the semifinals but it will sure make us happier.”