The strongest Philippine side yet will finally be put to the test as the Azkals begin their ambitious chase for a spot in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup Sunday.
The Azkals face Cambodia in Group E Qualifying of the AFC Challenge Cup, which rewards the champion of a spot to the continental showpiece tournament two years from now in Australia.
But before the Azkals can dream about going to Sydney, they face a daunting task of qualifying for the Challenge Cup finals in the Maldives next year.
And the challenge begins with a showdown with a Cambodia side still reeling from a heavy 0-7 loss to Turkmenistan last Friday at the start of the tournament, which was left in disarray after Brunei’s last-minute pullout.
The Azkals are heavy favorites in the 7:30 p.m. clash at Rizal Memorial Stadium but the pressure mounted on the hosts following the Turkmen’s emphatic opening-day win.
Only the top team in the group will gain automatic qualification to the Maldives with the two best second-placed teams from the five qualifying groups also advancing.
At the helm of perhaps the strongest national side in history, Azkals coach Michael Weiss said there will be no letup against Cambodia.
“We will not hold back and go full power like never before and we will risk a lot,” said Weiss. “Cambodia is a team that can create a chance but normally if we play one-way football and press them hard, we won’t have problems.”
Fil-Spanish striker Javier Patino makes his highly anticipated debut for the Azkals, while Roland Muller is expected to start on goal with the decision whether or not Neil Etheridge has served his suspension in the forfeiture win against Brunei still hanging in the balance.
Midfielder Stephan Schrock also returns to the side after missing the Suzuki Cup, while the midfield and defense boasts experienced players Rob Gier, Juani Guirado, Jerry Lucena, Dennis Caraga, Angel Guirado and Carli de Murga. Phil Younghusband is likewise expected to start alongside Patino.