Azkals kick off PH campaign vs Vietnam
JAKARTA—After hurdling some accreditation kinks, the Azkals take the Bung Karno pitch on Thursday afternoon looking to not only jumpstart their football bid but also the Philippines’ 26th Southeast Asian Games campaign as well.
These Azkals, made up of Under-23 booters who have not really had the time to get to know each other that well, battle a formidable Vietnamese side as Group B round robin action kicks off.
The Philippines is looking to snare a first football medal in the Games after its senior team had emerged as a force to reckon with in the region.
The Filipinos went through some anxious moments after the official Games accreditation of the players were released late by the tournament secretariat and reached the technical committee just in time for its meeting Wednesday afternoon.
The Under-23 Azkals get their first taste of high-caliber competition against the Vietnamese in the first match of these Games at the 85,000-seat Stadium at 4 p.m. (5 p.m. Manila time).
Laos and Myanmar, also with the Filipinos and the Vietnamese in Group B, tangle in the 7 p.m. match.
“We just hope to get in the groove early in the game,” coach Michael Weiss told the Inquirer shortly before a late lunch with his boys.
“We have not really played together that long so this will be an interesting match for us.”
The Philippines has yet to land a medal in a long history of participation in the SEAG, coming close in 1991, when Manila hosted the event, only to lose in the Final Four.
Senior team regulars Jason de Jong, Matthew and Mark Hartmann, Carlos de Murga, Jeff Christiaens, OJ Porteria and goalkeeper Roland Muller will lead the side that also includes standout local players Neckson Leonora, David Basa, Gerardo Valmayor and Joshua Beloya.
Going home with a medal of whatever color will fortify the resurgence of soccer in the country made possible by the group of senior Azkals led by the famous Younghusbands, James and Phil.
“I have to take the players as they are,” Weiss continued. “We are small compared to other (football) nations and they have a different kind of cohesion. We are not world-class with regard to that aspect.”
Weiss admitted to wanting to have at least four to six months more to coach this batch and be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each and every member and play his cards right in each match.
The Philippine coaching staff has labelled Group B as the “Group of Hope” with Brunei and Timor-Leste completing what has been acknowledged as a weak bracket.
The tougher Group A is composed of powerhouse teams Thailand, Singapore, defending champion Malaysia, host Indonesia and Cambodia.
The Filipinos need to finish second in their group to make it to the crossover Final Four.
Group A action does not start until Monday.
While Weiss admits to not knowing his players that well, the towering coach said that he has a lot of idea on how Vietnam plays, having seen his first foes play in the recent Exim Cup in Hanoi.
“They are good because they have been together for so long,” Weiss said.
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