Azkals in AFC qualifiers: No smooth ride the rest of the way
The Philippines may have opened its AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers with a comfortable 4-1 victory over Nepal Tuesday, but the Azkals can’t expect a smooth ride the rest of the way as they attempt to advance to the prestigious competition in 2019 for the first time in the United Arab Emirates.
The Azkals leaned on a brace from Phil Younghusband and a goal each from Iain Ramsay and Javier Patino to overwhelm Ghorkalis at Rizal Memorial Stadium, but there were still spells in the match where the home side switched off, allowing Nepal to pull a goal back even with a man disadvantage.
Azkals manager Dan Palami was delighted with the victory that ended a four-match winless run for the team. But he expressed concern over the performance of the Azkals, saying stronger teams could have punished the Filipinos with their mistakes, particularly in defense.
“We can’t expect everything to be easy from hereon,” said Palami. “We are the top seeds in our group and we must play like one. We have to get better because we might not even qualify with that kind of game.”
The Azkals will face a familiar foe in Tajikistan in Dushanbe on June 13 for their second assignment in Group F.
The Tajiks, who lost to the Azkals in the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup in Kathmandu, are desperate to pick up points after they suffered a 1-2 defeat to Yemen in the other group match in Doha, Qatar.
“It’s going to be a different game (against Tajikistan) because they are a more physical side compared to Nepal,” said veteran James Younghusband.
The Philippine Football Federation is lining up a friendly against powerhouse China in Guangzhou in early June before the Tajikistan game.
Only the top two teams from Group F will qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup, which has been expanded to 24 teams, eight more than in the previous edition won by Australia in 2015.
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