Hot Azkals eye payback
Face old foe Turkmenistan for top Challenge Cup slotBy Cedelf P. Tupas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Rob Gier has bad memories playing against Turkmenistan. The top Philippine defender is hoping things would change tonight.
Virtually assured of a spot in the AFC Challenge Cup, the Azkals hope to get back at an old tormentor in the Turkmen in the final match of Group E Qualifying at 7:30 p.m. at Rizal Memorial Stadium.
“I’ve lost to Turkmenistan twice, so it’s personal for me,” said Gier, the Azkals’ stand-in captain.
Gier’s last game against the Turkmen came last year in Nepal where the Azkals surrendered a 1-0 lead and lost, 1-2, in the Challenge Cup semifinals.
But the Azkals, with more talented players now in the fold, only need a draw to advance to the main tournament in the Maldives as the top team in the group, after scoring an emphatic 8-0 win over Cambodia.
The Turkmen also blasted the Cambodians, 7-0, last Friday.
Given that the two best second-placed teams in each group will also qualify for the Challenge Cup, even a narrow defeat for either team would still see both advance.
“Obviously, we want to win every match but we have to go there with a smart head,” said Azkals coach Michael Weiss. “We can’t go in just like today and run into an open knife and then lose on a counterattack. We have to be smart and 100 percent in control. We must qualify for the Maldives under all circumstances.”
The Azkals will miss midfielder Paul Mulders, who was sent off in the 81st minute for kicking the ball at Cambodian striker Kim Bhorey. Chris Greatwich, Marwin Angeles, James Younghusband and Chieffy Caligdong are all candidates to take Mulders’ place.
The Azkals drew superb games from Phil Younghusband and debuting Javier Patiño and Stephan Schrock, who dazzled on the left wing despite poor pitch conditions.
Goalkeeper Roland Muller is expected to retain his place in the starting lineup after keeping a clean sheet against Cambodia. Weiss is reportedly leaving out Neil Etheridge from the lineup for the second straight match.
“I have no reason to change the team because the boys went through situations and displayed fantastic football,” Weiss said.