‘Home’ game motivates AzkalsBy Cedelf P. Tupas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
BANGKOK—More than surpassing their feat two years ago, the Philippine football team here is fueled by the desire to give the country what it was deprived of in 2010: A semifinal home game in the AFF Suzuki Cup.
The Azkals reached the last four two years ago, but failed to get the homefield advantage they so desperately needed as the country did not have a suitable venue for the match against Indonesia, which eventually prevailed on aggregate scores.
But the absence of a stadium for the home game actually stemmed from the fact that the Azkals weren’t expected to go farther in the tournament.
When qualification to the knockout stage was sealed, the Azkals were left with no choice but to play their “home” game at the cauldron-like Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta.
The scenario will not be repeated this year as the Philippine Football Federation is pulling all stops to ensure that the Rizal Memorial Stadium will be ready if the Azkals make the semifinals.
Minor work has started at the RMS as the Asean Football Federation, through general secretary Dato Sri Paul Mony Samuel, announced that the venue is good for a home game subject to “remedial work on the field of play.”
The AFF said the stadium’s improved 1200 lux floodlights have “sufficient quality for broadcast” but noted a “slight unevenness” on the pitch that needs “remedial work.”
“We want to give the Philippines the home game they missed in 2010,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami. “Playing at home gives us confidence, but we’re still focused on the job at hand, which is to make the semifinals.”
Little room for error
The Azkals are left with little room for error in their bid to reach the knockout phase after losing to Thailand, 1-2, at the start of Group A play at Rajamangala Stadium here.
The tough grind continues with a match against Vietnam Tuesday night and a duel with Myanmar on Friday. The Azkals need two victories to seal their entry to the next round.
Adding to the worries of the squad is the injury sustained by Patrick Reichelt in training on Monday.
Reichelt broke two of his teeth following a collision with big Spanish striker Angel Guirado during the scrimmage.
Still, the Filipino-German said he was willing to play through the pain for the Vietnam clash, where he was expected to start after a dazzling performance as a substitute in the match against Thaland.
Demitrius Omphroy, who has been heavily involved in the buildup to the tournament, is hoping to win a race to be at 100 percent for the showdown against Myanmar on Friday.
Omphroy has been suffering from colds since arriving in the Thai capital last week.