BANGKOK—Throughout its rise over the past two years, the Philippines has played almost every team in Southeast Asia except for Thailand, a team whose footballing pedigree is almost unrivalled in the region.
The Azkals finally get a crack at the formidable Thais Saturday, undaunted by the prospect of playing a team with plenty of quality and a winning tradition at the start of the AFF Suzuki Cup at the 80,000-seater Rajamangala Stadium here.
It will be the first meeting between the two sides since 2007, when the Thais routed the Filipinos, 4-0, in an AFF Championship group match.
But a lot has changed since then particularly for the Azkals, who pulled off one stirring result after another in the 2010 tournament in Vietnam and showed steady improvement with the influx of talented overseas-based players.
“You cannot be overwhelmed by the strength of another team,” said Azkals coach Michael Weiss. “Thailand has good quality but it’s not a team to fear.”
Central defender Rob Gier and striker Phil Younghusband believe getting a result would be “massive” for the Azkals.
“Getting a win or a draw would go a long way for us and for our confidence,” said Younghusband, the country’s leading international scorer with 27 goals.
Thailand also has a German coach in the well-traveled Winfried Schaefer, who won the Africa Nations Cup with Cameroon in 2002, the same year the Thais lifted the regional crown.
“The Philippines is a very strong team,” said Schaefer, who watched the Azkals’ 1-0 win over Singapore in a friendly last week. “They have good fitness, good discipline and it’s not going to be easy.”
Weiss revealed his 22-man lineup for the tournament yesterday, leaving out Neil Etheridge and Stephan Schrock.
But the German included goalkeeper Roland Muller, whom he could tap if the Azkals go further in the tournament.