Azkals touch down in Dubai | Inquirer Sports

Azkals touch down in Dubai, eager to battle Asian heavyweights

By: - Reporter / @cedelfptINQ
/ 05:20 AM January 04, 2019

DUBAI—The Philippine Azkals touched down in this ultra modern, skyscraper-lined city Thursday for their biggest tournament yet as the 2019 AFC Asian Cup hits fever pitch in the United Arab Emirates.

The 24-nation football showcase begins on Saturday with the host country taking on Bahrain in Abu Dhabi, but the Azkals won’t be in action until Monday when they take on South Korea here.

As the No. 116 ranked team in the world, the Azkals are heavy underdogs in Group D of the tournament that features another powerhouse in China and another tournament debutante in Kyrgyzstan.

Except for the Koreans, the Azkals have faced the two other teams in their group in recent years, losing to China, 8-1, in a friendly two years ago. The Azkals beat Kyrgyzstan twice in 2016, although the Central Asian side is in its best form going into the tournament, vaulting to No. 91 in the latest Fifa rankings.

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“I think it’s a good draw because at least we’ve played two teams in the group before so we know what to expect,” said Azkals skipper Phil Younghusband.

The Azkals wrapped up a short training camp in Doha, Qatar, on Wednesday and flew to Dubai via Oman. The camp included a 4-2 loss to AFF Suzuki Cup champion Vietnam in a closed-door friendly.

Although the Azkals will be missing arguably the team’s biggest star in goalkeeper Neil Etheridge of English Premier League team Cardiff City, the Azkals have a wealth of talent and experience for their most important tournament to date.

Younghusband is the country’s top international scorer with 52 goals, but the team will also have Patrick Reichelt who hit top form in the Suzuki Cup with important goals against Vietnam and Singapore.

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While getting to the knockout stages seems like a miracle, the Azkals being here is already a huge accomplishment in itself for Philippine football.

“Every player dreams of representing their country in this kind of stage, in a tournament of this magnitude so we’re all excited to be here,” said Younghusband.

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TAGS: 2019 AFC Asian Cup, Football, Philippine Azkals, United Arab Emirates

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