Azkals hoping to regain scoring touch vs Nepal
Shutout in its last two international friendly matches, the Philippines hopes to rediscover its scoring touch starting with the duel with Nepal Friday at Grand Hamad Stadium in Doha, Qatar.
The match kicking off at 8:30 p.m. (1:30 a.m. Saturday in Manila) is part of the Azkals’ buildup for the AFC Challenge Cup in the Maldives next month, where the national side is seeking to qualify for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup.
It will be the Azkals’ third match under coach Thomas Dooley, whose first two games ended with a scoreless draw against Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur and a narrow 0-1 defeat to European side Azerbaijan in Dubai last month.
“The goal is to win the Challenge Cup and the match (against Nepal) is part of the preparation that will hopefully lead us there,” said Azkals leading scorer Phil Younghusband.
“We need just need games. We’re looking forward to the match and just the opportunity to play together.”
The Azkals will also play Qatari club Al-Ahli on Monday, capping their weeklong camp.
With the Challenge Cup just more than a month away, Azkals manager Dan Palami said the team has its work cut out for them if it wants to realize the dream of reaching the Asian Cup.
“We’re on the right track, but there’s plenty of work ahead of us,” said Palami. “All the other teams are not letting up in their preparation so we also need to step up. We need the cooperation of all stakeholders of the sport.”
The Azkals drubbed Nepal, 4-0, at Rizal Memorial Stadium in 2011, but Younghusband doubts if the scoreline will be repeated with both squads undergoing changes in the past two years.
With Patrick Deyto, who impressed in last month’s friendlies, ruling himself out due to a prior commitment, Ed Sacapaño is expected to get the start at goalkeeper.
The composition of the Azkals’ backline is a concern with Jeffrey Christiaens, a regular at leftback ruled out due to a foot injury. Newcomer Daisuke Sato could get his chance at Christiaens’ position, although Dooley could also go with a more experienced backline made up of Juani Guirado, Rob Gier, Simon Rota, and Anton Del Rosario.