Match Preview: Uzbekistan vs Philippines | Inquirer Sports

Match Preview: Uzbekistan vs Philippines

By: - Reporter / @cedelfptINQ
/ 08:41 PM March 23, 2016

Philippine Azkals vs Uzbekistan during their Fifa World Cup qualifying. Photo by Tristan Tamayo/

Philippine Azkals vs Uzbekistan during their Fifa World Cup qualifying. Photo by Tristan Tamayo/

TASHKENT—Coach Thomas Dooley and Juani Guirado were chatting on the car on their way to Bunyodkor Stadium last Wednesday for the prematch press conference when the coach mentioned a word that caught the player’s attention: Fight.

“I think that word suits our team when we play tomorrow,” the 36-year-old defender said. “We have to fight for 90 minutes.” It’s hard to recall a time when the Azkals have been this depleted for a match so important against an opponent of this caliber.

But it is what it is. The Filipinos need to rise to the challenge when they square off with Uzbekistan on Thursday night at the 34,000 seater stadium that opened just four years ago. They would have to play with steel, resolve and push the boundaries just to stifle the Uzbeks, whose pedigree at this level is unquestioned.


The Azkals arrived in Tashkent last Sunday night, enduring a close to 24-hour travel that included a 12-hour stop at Incheon Airport in South Korea. It’s a far from ideal scenario for a team desperate to keep its third place position in Group H. Bahrain plays Yemen in Manama and a win coupled by an Azkals loss here will push the Bahrainis to third spot,relegating the Azkals to fourth. Then there’s a small matter of the Azkals facing North Korea on Tuesday at Rizal Memorial Stadium with another long journey under their belts and only a couple of days preparation.

Right now, however, the Azkals couldn’t afford to look past Uzbekistan because they could pay dearly for it. Thursday night could be a special night for Philippine football, but several factors also point to a really tough outing.


The Azkals thrive on adversity. It’s difficult to explain but the team has a knack of pulling off the improbable when their backs are against the wall. Maybe its just in the team’s DNA or the innate Filipino trait of being resilient. Or maybe adversity brings out the best out of every player. The Azkals can take inspiration from past tournaments where they have been written off but still managed to pull through and get the result they needed whichever way they can.


The Vietnam game in the AFF Suzuki Cup in 2010 stands out as a prime example and so was the battling performance in the scoreless draw in North Korea in Pyongyang last October. “The only way for us to get a result is if we play outstanding and they play bad,” said Dooley.

Tricky away games require a lot of luck, and the Azkals, if they put in the work, can create their own luck. A workmanlike performance could do the trick here.


“We need an outstanding performance from the goalkeeper and an additional 10 percent effort from every player,” said Swiss goalkeeping coach Pascal Zuberbuhler.

The Uzbeks have shown their superiority at almost every aspect in the 5-1 humiliation of the Azkals at home last September. But that was a game that was over within 10 minutes. The Azkals couldn’t afford a repeat of that mishap.

They would have to defend as if their lives depended on it and be on-point for 90 minutes. They will get a chance or two and in Javier Patino they have someone who could cash in on those chances.


It’s one of those games where much of the talk surrounded on who was missing in the game rather than who was available. Skipper Phil Younghusband is out due to injury and so are Stephan Schrock and Kevin Ingreso. Misagh Bahadoran, the Azkals top scorer in the competition with two goals, will miss the game due to suspension along with Manny Ott. The Azkals are short on firepower. Rob Gier, who was a huge presence not just on the pitch but on the locker room, is no has retired from the team – a move followed by Jerry Lucena and Paul Mulders last week. Not only are the Azkals losing their scoring threats, but they also miss the leadership brought in by Gier and the composure provided by Lucena. But then again, the scenario could be a blessing in disguise. Dooley can use the next two games as a way to integrate youngsters like Jorrel Aristorenas, Dominic del Rosario, OJ Clarino and Jim Ashley Flores into the team.  “We are always looking forward to improving the depth in the squad and even though these are
extremely hard games, its a chance for the coach to test young players,” said goalkeeper Neil Etheridge.


The Azkals are out of the running for a spot in the third round of World Cup Qualifying but they are in a strong position to reach the third round of 2019 Asian Cup Qualifying. It’s important for the Azkals to take as many points as possible for the last couple of gamesto stay in third spot. Dropping to fourth spot may not necessarily lead to relegation to the playoff round as the Top 4 fourth placers from the eight groups are also automatically entered in the third

But the idea of finishing fourth in the group will be a bitter pill to swallow for the Philippine Football Federation. The fact remains that the Azkals were knocking at the door on Asian football’s elite teams after the first two games of the campaign, but lost the plot with losses in three of the next four matches.

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The Azkals are the third seed at the start of the competition although it was safe to say that North Korea and Yemen are also the top teams in their pots, proving that the rankings aren’t necessarily a reflection of the team’s strength. The playoff round isn’t where the Azkals should be, but they could find themselves there with a poor finish to thequalifying campaign.

TAGS: Azkals, azkals world cup, Juani Guirado, Sports, Thomas Dooley

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