Match Preview: Philippines vs Yemen
DOHA, Qatar—The Philippine Azkals look to stay perfect in their World Cup Qualifying campaign. The showdown with Yemen on Tuesday night (12 midnight in Manila) at Qatar Sports Club Stadium gives the Azkals an opportunity to take control of a very tough Group H. Going into the first couple of fixtures, coach Thomas Dooley targeted six points for his side.
After bringing down Bahrain, 2-1, at home last Thursday, the Azkals have put themselves in a good position to gain the upperhand in the group before the crunch home duel against Uzbekistan in September. But they have to handle an equally motivated Yemen side before they could think about anything else. The margin for error is slim for the Azkals in a tough Group H with the top team in the bracket advancing to the third round. The four best second placers in the eight qualifying groups will also advance to the next round. But unlike other groups where there is a huge gap in quality among the teams, the Azkals landed in a very competitive bracket that also includes Uzbekistan.
“If we have a goal to be among the best second placers, we have to win these first two games,” said Azkals coach Thomas Dooley. “When you look at the groups, most of the time, the second placers are looking at the goal differential. But with the group that we have, it’s very very difficult.” Dooley said the Azkals must take a do-or-die mentality in every game.
Here are some of the factors to consider heading into the match.
1. HOME AWAY HOME
Technically this is a home game for Yemenis who can’t play their games in their country due to security reasons. But with a huge Filipino community here, the Azkals could end up having the home field advantage to themselves. The Azkals have lured big crowds in previous visits and with admission free, all signs seem to be pointing for a large crowd backing up the team which seems to have acclimatized well to the hot weather. That should give the Azkals an added boost against a side that knows that a victory will lift the spirits of its people amid civil unrest in the country.
Yemen’s story is compelling much like Palestine, which battled through tough odds in the Challenge Cup last year to beat the Azkals. Traveling 13 hours by boat since airports in Yemen have been shut down, the Yemenis are fired up by their plight. That extra motivation of bringing joy to a war-torn nation cannot be underestimated. In the AFC Challenge Cup finals, Palestine showed a hunger and desire unlike any other to win against the Azkals. That in itself should be a warning sign for the Azkals. The Yemenis have proven to be a tough nut to crack judging from their initial outing against North Korea. They narrowly lost, 0-1, and actually had their moments in the first half.
Azkals defender Rob Gier said Yemen’s ranking of 167 is not a true reflection of the quality of the side. “We’re full of confidence right now but we need a professional performance and plenty of hardwork which was the basis of our performance against Bahrain,” said Gier. Azkals manager Dan Palami is also guarding the team from overconfidence. “The biggest stumbling block will be ourselves,” said Palami. “If we come in overconfident, we might find ourselves in trouble. If we come out with the same effort against Bahrain, then we’ll have a good chance of getting three points.”
2. STRENGTH IN DEPTH
Once again, the Azkals’ depth will be tested. Simone Rota joined Stephan Schrock in the injured list last Saturday after clashing knees with a teammate in training last Saturday. Rota hasn’t trained since then, walking with a slight limp. Schrock has already returned to Germany to recuperate after hurting his knee in the win against Bahrain. Azkals coach Thomas Dooley certainly needs every player to be spot-on with two regular players sidelined. Rota actually came in as a late second half sub against Bahrain. Schrock and Rota’s absence could open up opportunities for other players to get some minutes like Mark Hartmann and Kevin Ingreso – two players who have made an impression in training camp but failed to get time on the pitch against Bahrain.
With the gameplan against Bahrain working brilliantly, it seems far-fetched for Dooley to change the squad drastically. Stephan Palla should keep his place in the side after a solid 65 minute debut against Bahrain. Palla was cramping as he only had a couple of days to recover from the long travel from Europe. With more training sessions with the team, concerns on cohesion and fitness should be addressed. The Azkals will still play three at the back with Rob Gier at the middle as Luke Woodland awaits clearance from the match commissioner over his availability. Woodland got his clearance from Fifa on the eve of the match.
3. ATTACKING POTENTIAL
With the return of Javier Patino and the arrival of Iain Ramsay, the Azkals are teeming with talents up front. Add a rejuvenated Misagh Bahadoran to the mix and the Azkals have a devastating combination of players who could wreak havoc against most sides in Asia. Bahadoran has been a man on a mission since recovering from injury early this year and scoring in the AFC Cup for Global has done plenty to his confidence. Patino showed that he was the man the Azkals have been waiting for up front with an instinctive finish that proved to be the difference against Bahrain. Ramsay endured a slow start against Bahrain before finally showing his worth with a stellar second half that included winning the free kick that led to the second goal. In Ramsay, the Azkals have a solid outlet on the wings when they go on the counterattack. He is probably the quickest player to ever don an Azkals jersey. Phil Younghusband should continue in his role as playmaker. He switched plays brilliantly against Bahrain and the range of his passing will be an asset for the Azkals as he gets better at his position. With the Azkals firepower up front, hopes are high that the goals will come against Yemen. CFC
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