Azkals try to seize the moment

Battle Singapore in Lions’ den today for spot in Suzuki Cup finals

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12:05 AM December 12th, 2012

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By: Cedelf P. Tupas, December 12th, 2012 12:05 AM

SINGAPORE’S Baihakki Khaizan deprives Angel Guirado (left) of a long pass in Saturday’s first leg of the Suzuki Cup semifinal series at Rizal Memorial Stadium. AUGUST DELA CRUZ

SINGAPORE—Unfazed by the thought of playing in enemy territory in its most important match in tournament history, the Philippines aims for a maiden championship appearance against three-time winner Singapore in the second leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup semifinals Wednesday at Jalan Besar Stadium here.

The two sides battled to a scoreless draw in Manila last Saturday, which means a goal by the Azkals here could pile up the pressure on the Lions, who are heavily favored to advance considering their wealth of experience.

The Azkals’ chances haven’t been better, though. Two years ago, in a similar stage, they were down 0-1 on aggregate to an Indonesian side backed by about 70,000 supporters in Jakarta heading into the second leg.

This time, the Azkals will have to deal with an 8,000-strong crowd, playing in a faster artificial pitch, and a squad with a winning tradition.

A scoring draw would be enough but experienced defender Rob Gier thinks it would be foolish for the Azkals to take that mindset.

“We don’t want it to end tomorrow night (Wednesday night),” said Gier, referring to their Suzuki Cup journey.

The Lions have the dual task of scoring and preventing the Azkals from doing the same. If the match stays goalless after regulation, extra time will be needed with a penalty shootout as the ultimate decider if no team finds the back of the net.

“We’ve always been saying that this is what we’ll all be waiting for,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami. “We don’t want to settle for just another semifinal appearance.”

“This is the best chance we will ever have,” said striker Phil Younghusband. “The good thing about our team is that whether we are home or away, we still feel we can win the game.”

The Azkals took time to settle on the ball in the first leg in Manila, where the Lions dominated the opening 45 minutes. With their midfielders finding their rhythm, the Azkals showed some attacking bite in the second half.

“One of the plus things about the last game is that we know we could still play better,” said Younghusband.

One thing constant for the Azkals in the tournament has been their solidity on the defensive end with Gier and Juani Guirado manning the fort.

Jerry Lucena returns to the side since the 1-0 win over Vietnam in the group stage in Bangkok and Azkals coach Michael Weiss sees the Fil-Danish standout as a stabilizing factor in the middle.

Weiss said the Azkals must produce the same kind of fighting spirit they showed in the second half of the first leg to stand a chance against the Lions.

“Singapore will have a small advantage because of their experience, but the boys are hungry and eager to show what they can do,” he said.

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