Azkals look to rebound against Guam’s Matao
DEDEDO, Guam—Philippine captain Stephan Schrock minced no words when asked about the significance of the Azkals’ World Cup Qualifying clash against Guam on Tuesday.
“It’s already a do-or-die match,” said Schrock, referring to the 3:30 p.m. match (1:30 p.m. in Manila) with the Matao at GFA National Training Center here.
“We’ve missed an opportunity in the last game and put ourselves under pressure and now we have to find a way to get out of this hole.”
Only two games into the qualifying campaign for football’s showpiece event in Qatar in 2022, the Azkals find themselves in a precarious spot of needing maximum points after dropping their Group A opener to Syria, 2-5, in Bacolod City last Thursday.
And for Schrock, the Azkals have no recourse but to come out sharper against the Matao, whose captain Jason Cunliffe is quite familiar with the Philippine team, having played for Pachanga Diliman in the now defunct United Football League.
“We can’t overlook Guam even with the ranking that they have now,” said Schrock, whose side is 64 places ahead of the 190th-ranked Matao in the Fifa rankings.
The Azkals, who arrived Saturday morning in this United States territory known for its postcard-pretty beaches, still have six more matches remaining following the Guam duel, but coach Scott Cooper said they can’t afford to drop more points with powerhouse China next for them on Oct. 15.
“Our target is to get the three points, regroup and plan ahead for the China match,” said Cooper, who hinted at handing youngsters Justin Baas and Yrik Gallantes their Azkals debuts for the match against Guam.
Maldives dealt Guam a narrow 1-0 defeat last Tuesday, but coach Danny McBreen believes his squad deserved more for their performance particularly in the second half.
“For us, it’s about constant revolution in improving the team,” said the Aussie, who once scored against Philippine club Global in an AFC Cup match four years ago while playing for Hong Kong side South China. “We’ll go out there with an attitude that we’re playing for the island [of Guam].”
Bracing for a strong Azkals performance, Cunliffe expects a bigger crowd to show up for the match with 25 percent of the 160,000 population of Guam having Filipino lineage.
“I’ve seen how dangerous the [Philippine] team is with seasoned professionals in the squad,” said Cunliffe. “But we know it will be hard for opponents to take points off of us because we’re very organized.”
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