Azkals test worth versus Singapore Lions Thursday night

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The Philippines gauges its readiness for the AFF Suzuki Cup today when it clashes with Singapore in the first international friendly to be played at the spruced-up Cebu City Sports Center.

The test match slated at 7 p.m. against the three-time Southeast Asian champion Lions comes just nine days before the Azkals open their campaign in the Suzuki Cup in Bangkok, Thailand.

The Singaporeans are also in the final phase of their preparations for the biennial tournament, although they will be playing in Group B against host Malaysia, Indonesia and Laos.

Aside from sharpening their play in preparation for matches against Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar in Bangkok late this month, the Azkals are also aching to prove that their morale-boosting 2-0 away victory over the Lions two months ago was no fluke. It was the first victory by the Philippines against Singapore in 40 years.

Singapore, however, will come in with a more formidable side than the one that played at the Jurong West Stadium last time with 42-year-old Aleksandar Duric returning to lead the line.

The Serbia-born naturalized player, who missed the previous meeting with the Philippines due to injury, has been a scourge for the Azkals, scoring twice in two meetings with the Filipinos.

Azkals coach Michael Weiss remains confident that his players can get the job done, despite the absence of several Europe-based standouts, including Stephan Schrock who was the Man of the Match in the upset of the Lions last September.

“Singapore will be coming in with a full squad, but we are strong now and we are in a position not to look at the top players of the opponent but rather look at our own strengths and go for the occasion,” said Weiss, who will also use the match in determining his 22-man lineup for the Suzuki Cup.

Among the Europe-based players, Cebu-born Ray Jonsson and Rob Gier are the only players available for selection with Ed Sacapano also starting in lieu of Neil Etheridge and Roland Muller, who have club commitments.

The Azkals go into the game on the back of a 1-2 loss to Kuwait side in an encouraging performance that came after they held powerhouse Bahrain to a scoreless draw last month.

Whatever the outcome, Weiss said the Azkals had prepared well for the Suzuki Cup.

“The preparations have been fantastic. I couldn’t have been more satisfied,” he said.

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