PH Azkals eye upset vs ‘improved’ Chinese team
MANILA, Philippines–Needing no less than its finest performance, the Philippines is bracing for an “improved” China side when the two teams square off on Oct. 15 in the joint Fifa World Cup and AFC Asian Cup qualification phase at Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City.
Sitting at third spot after splitting its first two matches, the Azkals aim for an upset against the Asian powerhouse that has beaten the Philippines three times in the last two and a half years, including in the AFC Asian Cup last January.
One thing going for coach Scott Cooper and the Azkals is the fact that they’ll have a few extra days to prepare for the game as they play China in the second scheduled match of this month’s international window.
The Azkals have scheduled an exhibition match against Thai Premier League side Chainat Hornbill which travelled all the way to Bacolod to test the national team on Thursday.
“We’ve got the advantage this time because we only have one game for this break, which means we get more preparation time,” said Cooper. “We have to come up with a plan for this game, which we know is going to be a difficult game as we’ve lost the last three games to China.”
“The last one was not a bad performance possession-wise and we create good chances,” said Cooper, referring to the 0-2 defeat to the Chinese in Guangzhou last June.
The Chinese side of World Cup winning coach Marcello Lippi, led by naturalized Brazilian striker Ai Kesen and Spanish La Liga campaigner Wu Lei of Espanyol, still has to play Guam in Guangzhou on Thursday, before flying to Bacolod for the clash against the Azkals.
“We know it’s an improved Chinese team,” said Cooper. “And they’ve obviously got their own aspirations of World Cup qualification.”
Cooper released his 23-man side that will be led by Cardiff City goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, who is returning from a hamstring injury. Etheridge has not played for the Azkals since the 2-1 win over Tajikistan in Asian Cup Qualifying in March last year. Two key additions for the squad are Nico De Vera of the Portland Timbers and Norway-based Elias Suerti of Brattvag.
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