Azkals test mettle vs Malaysia
Phil Younghusband celebrates with his compatriots during the 2016 Suzuki Cup | Suzuki Cup photo
MANILA, Philippines — In preparation for the Asian Cup qualifiers with their first match against Nepal next week, the Azkals will be competing in an international friendly against perennial Southeast Asian rival Malaysia Wednesday night at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
Months after a subpar performance by the Azkals in the AFF Suzuki Cup held in Bulacan last year, the national team is back in the pitch with high hopes, especially for the upcoming Asian Cup qualifiers.
This time, Azkals skipper Phil Younghusband is confident of the team’s chances, “Everyone seems excited and happy to be playing back together. The hunger is back. It was a long season for everyone last year and some have been tired mentally.”
“We have done against the teams (Tajikistan, Nepal and Yemen) in the past. We have good results against them. That gives us hope and expectations that we can qualify in this group. We have beaten Nepal a few times. We played good against Yemen. We beat Tajikistan in the past during the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup. In our group, we are very strong. And with the draw, we have high hopes of qualifying.”
The Azkals are also confident especially with the return of goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, Javier Patino and Daisuke Sato, whom the team sorely missed during the AFF Suzuki Cup last year.
“It is great that they are playing well at a high level of competition in their countries. Etheridge in England, Sato in Romania, Patino in China. They play at a high level every week. They can raise the performance and bring that experience to the team and can help make the team better.”
Phil also added that he looks forward to the possibility of playing in Panaad Park and Stadium in Bacolod for the Asian Cup qualifiers, “It is always amazing playing in Bacolod because the fans are very passionate. They love football. I watched the Ceres games of the AFC Cup and they really fill up the stadium.”
“I think it would be great if we can have games there. Playing in empty stadiums can be quite difficult and challenging because you have to find motivation when there is not many people around. If you play in filled stadiums, you have more adrenaline and more confident. It gives you more urgency to do well. If we play in Panaad, that would be better for the team.”