Inspired Azkals take on Australia U-23
DUBAI—The Philippine Azkals look to continue their fine form when they tangle with Australia’s Under-23 side Thursday in the final match of their Middle East training camp here.
But they will go into the match without two of their key players in Phil and James Younghusband, who returned to Manila Tuesday because of a prior commitment.
However, the Azkals got a boost with first-choice keeper Neil Etheridge arriving in this economic hub south of the Persian Gulf for the 8 p.m. duel with the Aussies at the Al Maktoum Stadium inside the Al Nasr Sports Club.
Finally getting their acts together, the Azkals pulled off a 3-1 win over Qatar first division side Al Ahli in Doha Monday night with Filipino-German Denis Wolf scoring his debut goal and Phil Younghusband finding the back of the net twice.
It was an encouraging sign for a team preparing for one of its toughest tournament in the AFC Challenge Cup but without some of its key players.
Azkals coach Michael Weiss said the Aussies will provide a tougher challenge than Al Ahli.
“We have to go through this match with the same determination, same tactical approach and with the same fantastic spirit like in the last match,” said Weiss.
“It will be a tough match, it will be harder but we also have these two matches under our legs and we know how we want to play.”
The Aussies are coming off a 0-2 loss to Uzbekistan last week in Olympic Qualifying in Tashkent, but Weiss doubts if the Aussies played to their potential because of the freezing conditions during the match.
Azkals manager Dan Palami believes the Filipinos will be tough to beat if it can replicate the performance in Doha.
The Azkals proved solid in defense and looked dangerous on the counter-attack against Al-Ahli—a far cry from their performance in the 0-3 loss to the Uzbeks.
“There have been big improvements from the first game to the second game,” said defender Rob Gier, who remains doubtful for the match because of a calf problem.
“We’re really strong playing at the kind of formation (we played against Al Ahli). It’s only a matter of fine tuning,” added Gier.
Filipino-Icelandic defender Ray Jonsson could wear the captain’s armband for the first time since joining the team two years ago in the absence of James Younghusband, who was given the skipper’s role because of injuries to Chieffy Caligdong and Aly Borromeo.