By Mike T. Limpag
AFTER making history in its first two matches, surprise Group B leaders Philippines will try to make another when it takes on Myanmar in its final assignment in the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup in Vietnam at 8:30 tonight.
The Philippines leads Group B with four points and only needs a draw against Myanmar, which is already eliminated, to advance to the semis—the first time the Philippines will be in the final four of the 16-year-old competition.
Host and defending champion Vietnam will face Singapore and needs to win to keep its title bid alive.
Singapore also only needs a draw to advance. The two games will be held simultaneously.
The Azkals, as the Philippine team is called by fans, made history after Chris Greatwich scored an injury time goal to draw with Singapore, the first time they were able to draw with the three-time champion.
In their next game, the Azkals shook Asean football with a 2-0 shutout over Vietnam, a victory that was the topic of the coaches and journalists in the Group A matches in Indonesia.
Despite the historical ramifications of their game today, British Coach Simon McMenemy said the team is disregarding that, for now.
“I’ve been smiling for the last 12 hours as things like this do not happen very often.
But my main focus at this time will be against Myanmar where I’m not even talking about the semi-finals or where we will play—that does not interest me at this point,” McMeneny said in a report posted at Aseanfootball.org.
This is not the first time the Philippines will be facing Myanmar in its final group assignment but this time, the circumstances have changed.
In 2007, the Philippines lost its first two games to Thailand (4-0) and Malaysia (4-0) and was expected to be easy prey for Myanmar, which needed a win to advance to the semis.
Instead, the Azkals shock Myanmar by holding it to a goalless draw.
Myanmar’s morale is also low after giving up an injury time goal to Singapore in its 2-1 loss but it is expected to give its all to salvage its pride.
“The morale of the team is not at a good place at this time. But we have to do everything possible to make sure that the team put up the best that they can and at least finish this group round on a respectable note,” Team captain Myint Aung told Asean Football.
But RP team manager Dan Palami, who has bankrolled the team for the past 11 months, said the Azkals shouldn’t be complacent.
“There should be no letup from our team. We should not be satisfied. We have a great chance to do something big for Philippine football and we want to make the most out of it,” he said.
Should RP make it to the semis, it could face the Group A second placer in the home-and-away semis. Thailand occupies second in Group A but that is expected to change with Malaysia and Laos also in the running for the No. 2 spot pending the final results of last night’s games.
Sun Star Cebu