Embattled Azkals open AFC bid vs North Koreans | Inquirer Sports

Embattled Azkals open AFC bid vs North Koreans

By: - Reporter / @cedelfptINQ
/ 11:12 PM March 08, 2012

James and Phil Younghusband

KATHMANDU—As if a controversy back home is not enough, the Philippines will also have to deal with the squad tipped to go all the way in the AFC Challenge Cup as it opens its campaign here Friday.

Defending champion North Korea, 2010 World Cup qualifier, tests the Azkals, who will miss some of their finest players at the start of Group B play at 5 p.m. (Manila time) at Halchowk Stadium.


The Azkals are considered greenhorns at the international level, and goalkeeper Neil Etheridge believes no less than a perfect performance is needed for the Filipinos to stand a chance against a team that will be parading seven players from their World Cup side.


“Our concentration for 90 minutes will have to be spot-on and there won’t be a moment for us to relax,” Etheridge said.

Focus has been a concern for the Azkals since leaving for the Himalayan country last Friday to acclimatize.

Two of its key players—Angel Guirado and Lexton Moy—have been accused by AFC match commissioner Cristy Ramos of sexual harassment during the prematch inspection in the friendly against Malaysia last Feb. 29.

Azkals coach Michael Weiss admitted that preparations for the biennial tournament have been far from ideal.

And with Fil-German midfield maestro Stephan Schrock, experienced leftback Dennis Cagara, defender Aly Borromeo and Jerry Lucena unavailable, the Azkals are left with a mountain to climb in their bracket that also includes former champions India and Tajikistan.

“North Korea is the clear favorite in this group,” said Weiss, who will pin his hopes on Fil-Dutch midfielder Paul Mulders, James and Phil Younghusband and the hitherto-injured Chieffy Caligdong.


Etheridge, who sparkled in the 1-1 draw against Malaysia, believes the pressure will be on the North Koreans, who won the title in 2010 in Sri Lanka.

“North Korea has been in larger competitions but it is important that we concentrate on our game not theirs,” the Fulham reserve keeper said.

PFF president Mariano Araneta cannot help but overemphasize the importance of a good result against North Korea.

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“I think it’s a challenge for the boys to give their best, especially with what’s happening now in Manila,” said Araneta.

TAGS: AFC Challenge Cup, Angel Guirado, Cristy Ramos, Football, Hans Michael Weiss, Lexton Moy, Neil Etheridge, North Korea, Soccer, Sports

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