Strong start needed as Azkals open semis vs Vietnamese
BACOLOD CITY—The Philippines slips back to its familiar role as a heavy underdog as it battles Vietnam on Sunday in the first leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup semifinals at Panaad Stadium here.
With only 18 players at their disposal, the Azkals face numerous concerns heading into the 7:30 clash, foremost of which will be how to fill the void left by two players who have started all matches in the group stage—leftback Daisuke Sato and midfielder Patrick Strauss.
Ever since they’ve touched down in this football-mad city, coach Sven-Goran Eriksson and his staff have tested several options to fill up the role of Sato and Strauss, who were recalled by their clubs in Romania and Germany, respectively, after the draw against Indonesia.
But assistant coach Chris Greatwich remained tightlipped on how the Azkals will be set up against a Vietnam team that has scored eight goals in four matches so far and conceded none.
Kevin Ingreso seems a lock to start at Strauss’ position, but it’s in the defense, where the Azkals will have to do some serious shuffling.
One option is to slip Amani Aguinaldo at the back beside Alvaro Silva with Carlie de Murga moving to rightback.
But that could be a tricky ploy since Aguinaldo has yet to see action in the tournament.
The Azkals acknowledge the tough task at hand against the talented Vietnamese, whose team is made up of the stars of the Under-23 side that reached the final in the AFC Under-23 championship.
“They are a good team, but we are also confident [of our chances],” said captain Phil Younghusband. “We stick to our identity and the way we play which has gotten us this far in the tournament and I think we’ll have a good chance.”
After sputtering performances in the previous edition of the tournament, the Azkals seemed to have found the right balance. Younghusband also knows the team has the ability to raise their level when the situation calls for it.
“We’re a team that whichever team is in front of us, we’ll play to that level,” he said. “If a stronger team is up against us, we’ll raise our performance.”
It will be the fourth time in five tournaments that the Azkals are in the semifinal round. In each of the three previous trips to the knockout round, the Azkals were not able to score in their home leg. That’s why Younghusband stressed the importance of getting off to a strong start at Panaad on Sunday night, before the tie heads to Hanoi for the second leg on Thursday.
“I think we need a good start in our home game,” said Younghusband. “When you’re away in their stadium with over 40,000 to 50,000 [people in the audience], it’s important to get a good start at home and get a win so we will have something to fight for in the second leg. Whether its a 1-nil, 2-nil or a 2-1, it’s important that we go into the second leg with the lead or the advantage. That would be key.”