Azkals host Singapore in semisBy Cedelf P. Tupas |Philippine Daily Inquirer
The Philippines has beaten Singapore twice in friendly matches the last three months.
But that hardly counts as far as the Azkals are concerned as they brace for the AFF Suzuki Cup semifinals against the three-time champion Lions starting this Saturday at Rizal Memorial Stadium.
What counts most, national team manager Dan Palami said, is the support of the home crowd as the Azkals play in the first Suzuki Cup game the country will host.
“Now that we are here, we are hoping the home fans can help get us through,” said Palami. “We can’t count a lot on the results of the past.”
But a cloud of uncertainty hovers over the participation of the Azkals’ foreign-based players. Angel Guirado, one of the scorers against Myanmar, returned to India on Saturday to rejoin his club, while leftback Dennis Cagara also flew back to Germany as he awaits clearance from his club.
Philippine Football Federation president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta said they have already communicated with the clubs of the players, seeking their release for the Suzuki Cup semifinals, almost immediately after the win against Myanmar Friday night.
Singapore earned top spot in Group B with a thrilling 4-3 win over Laos Saturday night in Shah Alam, Malaysia, paving the way for a showdown with the Azkals, who finished second in Group A after winning against Vietnam and Myanmar in Bangkok.
Defending champion Malaysia also advanced by beating Indonesia, 2-0.
As the No. 2 team in the group, the Azkals get to host the first leg of the semifinals with Singapore staging the second leg at the Jelan Besar Stadium on Dec. 12.
There are hardly any secrets between the two sides, having already played four times since the 2010 tournament and two times in the last three months, including last Nov. 15 when the Azkals prevailed, 1-0, at the Cebu City Sports Center. The Azkals also beat Singapore, 2-0, at the Jurong West Stadium in Singapore last September.
Palami said the current form of the Singaporeans is a cause for worry.
“We should be wary of them,” said Palami. “Singapore has always been a strong team with a lot of quality.”
Palami noted the Singapore comeback against Laos, where the Lions overhauled a 0-2 deficit to prevail, is a testament to the strength of the three-time champions.
Striker Phil Younghusband, who scored the first goal in the 2-0 win over Myanmar, said those two wins against Singapore give the Azkals “a lot of confidence.”
“But this is a tournament where anybody can beat anybody,” the striker added.