The Philippines are in the semifinals of the prestigious ASEAN Football Federtion Suzuki Cup for the second time running, and the Azkals are hoping to do one better and enter the finals this time around.
Standing in the Azkals’ way are three-time winners Singapore, which finished top of Group B to earn the right to face the Philippines. The Lions will be making their return to the semifinals after failing to qualify in the 2010 edition of the competition.
Here are five things we should know about the Azkals going into the first leg in Manila on Saturday.
1. Azkals will be brimming with confidence and self-belief
The Philippines will be facing Singapore without any fear, coming off back-to-back friendly victories against the Lions in a span of three months, while keeping two clean sheets in the process.
The Azkals proved that they can beat Singapore at home and away, which certainly bodes well for the Philippines’ chances coming into the first leg in Manila.
Make no mistake, however; the game on Saturday will not be a friendly match by any stretch of the imagination. Singapore will be licking its wounds at having been beaten by erstwhile cannon fodder Philippines, while at the same time aiming to reclaim old football glory in the ASEAN region.
Past victories count for nothing today, but a great psychological advantage at having beaten them twice on the trot is a massive edge for the Philippines.
Back in 2010, first time semi-finalists Azkals were given a baptism of fire in the cavernous Bung Karno Stadium against Indonesia, where the Philippines gallantly lost by an aggregate score of 0-2.
This time, veterans in the team will know what to expect. Fans and coaching staff will likewise expect a different outcome from the Azkals.
2. Azkals coaching staff now know the team’s best starting 11
Coach Hans Michael Weiss will be wise to take stock of the Azkals’ performances in the three group stage matches and act accordingly on whom to place his trust in the starting eleven.
The group stages have unearthed gems from the Azkals’ bench, notably Patrick Reichelt, who has made the left wing his own and Jason de Jong, who has beefed up the Azkals midfield with his tenacious play.
Carli de Murga, back to full fitness, will surely have secured his place at right-back with an assured performance against Myanmar, albeit losing his game shorts to fans after the game.
Angel Guirado’s recent heroics prove that he deserves a start against Singapore. A return of a goal and an assist in three games will certainly catch a coach’s attention, especially with two of those games having him come off the bench.
Chieffy Caligdong will have to be relegated to the bench again, but it might be for the best for all parties concerned. Chieffy might not last 90 minutes at this level, but in twenty minutes in a substitute’s role, he is certainly a danger man capable of unlocking a tiring opposing right-back.
» Azkals goalkeeper Roland Mueller announces national team retirement
» RAMPAGING FULLBACK | AFC Cup: Global FC gets job done in Manila, but must be more clinical
» Azkals player Iain Ramsay joins Ceres’ loaded lineup