Azkals need just a draw vs Turkmenistan
BANDOS ISLAND, Maldives—The AFC Challenge Cup hasn’t seen the best from the Philippines yet.
And that could mean danger for a Turkmenistan side that will also be fighting to stay alive in the tournament on Saturday against the Azkals.
Still looking for their sharpest and deadliest form, the Azkals seek a slot in the final playdate in Group B at the National Stadium in Male.
The Azkals finally barged into the win column with a 2-0 blanking of Laos Thursday night, boosting their tally to four points from two matches counting their scoreless draw against a surprisingly tough Afghanistan last Tuesday.
Still, the Azkals cannot afford to take it easy against a desperate Turkmenistan side that needs maximum points to advance to the semifinals.
With Afghanistan beating Turkmenistan, 3-1, Thursday night, the Azkals only need a draw against the Turkmen in their clash Saturday.
Afghanistan is poised to take the other semifinal berth from the group with a showdown against winless Laos remaining in its schedule.
“We can still get better,” said Azkals coach Thomas Dooley. “What’s important now is keep winning.”
“The good thing is we’re improving and this next game gives us a chance to show an even better cohesion among the players,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami.
The Azkals left Addu City for Male on Friday, taking a one-hour flight with the Turkmenistan team, before enduring a 30-minute speedboat ride to this island resort.
Juani Guirado, a source of strength for the Azkals’ backline, has ruled himself out of the Turkmenistan match because of a right knee injury he sustained before halftime of the Laos encounter. He joins keeper Neil Etheridge on the injured list.
Amani Aguinaldo and Jerry Lucena could step in and fill Guirado’s role, but skipper Rob Gier could not help but feel disappointed over the impending absence of his defensive partner.
“I think the partnership that me and Juani have is one of the strengths of the side, so he’s going to be a big miss,” Gier said. “One thing we got now is that we have a squad of players and the level doesn’t drop when people are not around. We’ll be fine.”
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