Azkals remain positive
BOCAUE, BULACAN—No longer the underdogs in the AFF Suzuki Cup, the Philippines may just have to play like one to salvage its campaign here.
The Azkals won’t have the luxury of wasting chances like they did against Singapore when they clash against a crack Indonesian side at 8 p.m. on the second match day of Group A at Philippine Sports Stadium here.
Heavily favored to roll past the Lions last Saturday night, the Azkals settled for a draw to pick up a point that leaves them with little room for error against the Indonesians, who also need a victory to stay in the hunt for a semifinal place.
For a team that is so used to being overlooked and dismissed in this tournament, the Azkals suddenly found themselves in an unfamiliar role as a favorite and playing at home.
This tournament, however, has seen the Azkals thrive in pressure-packed scenarios and Azkals midfielder Stephan Schrock hopes the clash against Indonesia may just ignite their trademark never-say-die spirit.
“When our backs are against the wall, we are at our best and that’s what we will do,” Schrock told the Inquirer.
“Maybe there are some guys who are gone and some guys who have just come in, but the spirit of the Azkals has always been the same.”
Azkals legend Chieffy Caligdong, now the assistant coach, challenged the players to raise their game against Indonesia.
“I think the team should be more aggressive and show more hunger to get the three points,” said Caligdong, who was part of the 2010 and 2012 teams that reached the semifinals.
“If we want to be part of history, we have to play good football. It’s not enough that you are just part of the team.”
Amid the frustration in the aftermath of the draw against Singapore, Azkals coach Thomas Dooley said the Azkals haven’t lost sight of their goal of winning this year’s tournament.
“I can see the positive spirit from the guys,” he said. “They were frustrated and upset that they couldn’t score, but the winning mentality hasn’t changed.”
The Azkals welcome back Martin Steuble, after the midfielder served a suspension against Singapore.
Steuble is Dooley’s first choice rightback, but the coach is left with a dilemma after Kenshiro Daniels acquitted himself well in the position last Saturday.
Defending champion Thailand, a 4-2 winner over Indonesia last Saturday behind Teerasil Dangda’s hat trick, guns for a place in the semifinals when it battles Singapore in the 4:30 p.m. kickoff.
The result of the match will have huge implications for the Azkals as a Thailand victory will mean they could face a side with little to play for on Friday.
Just the same, picking up three points against Indonesia is imperative, although it won’t be as easy as it was in 2014 when the Azkals drubbed the Merah Putih, 4-0, in the group stage in Hanoi, Vietnam.
“Our team that time was very weak,” said Indonesia coach Alfred Reidl. “I have a fitter team now. We believe we can beat the Philippines.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.