THE ROAD back to the AFF Suzuki Cup semifinals was a long and tough one for the Philippines.
The Azkals earned a home match for reaching the Final Four again, one that means so much, having been deprived to host in 2010 because of the lack of a suitable venue.
Determined to rewrite history, the Azkals hope to make the most out of their advantage when they battle three-time champion Singapore in the first leg today of their home-and-away duel at Rizal Memorial Stadium.
The second leg is slated Dec. 12 at Jalan Besar Stadium in Singapore, but the Azkals would love nothing more than an edge that will put the Lions under pressure.
The semifinals will be decided on aggregate scores, with the away goals rule used to break the tie.
“We look at this as a 180-minute match,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami. “But we also want to take advantage early.”
Having won the last two meetings with Singapore, both friendly matches, the Azkals are brimming with confidence against the proud and defiant Lions, whose fiery coach Radojko Avramovic reminded the tournament upstart what they are up against.
“I think the Philippines should respect us more because we are three-time champions,” said Avramovic yesterday at the prematch press conference. “We can make them wait two more years to dream of the finals again.”
Coach Michael Weiss fanned the flames of brewing rivalry, saying the Azkals are not just going to give away that opportunity for playing the title easily.
“Why would I respect an opponent only because he has titles in the past? For what?” an apparently piqued Weiss said when sought for comment on Avramovic’s statement.
While Singapore has been a familiar figure in the biggest stage of the tournament, the Philippines continues to fight for recognition. And it’s this thought that has motivated the Azkals even more.
“We will not be complacent,” Palami vowed. “We intend to write our own history. We want to continue making an impact in this tournament.”
Led by captain Shahril Bin Ishak, Singapore will come into the game as the highest-scoring team in the tournament with its attack that has yielded seven goals in three games.
The Lions also have veteran Aleksandar Duric, who has scored twice against the Azkals in their last four meetings.