By PATRICK SALOMON
THE Philippines' senior men's national football team, known as 'the Azkals', are set to turn it up a notch tonight when they play their second friendly match in three days against Bahrain's under-23 Olympic team.
Their first meeting on Saturday, held at the National Stadium in Riffa, ended 2-1 in favour of the hosts, with Sayed Dhiya Saeed scoring the winning goal early in the second half.
'The Azkals' will be looking to turn the tables on their rivals this time around, and give what is expected to be a capacity crowd of Filipino supporters an evening to remember at the Muharraq Club stadium in Arad.
Head coach Hans Michael Weiss admitted, however, that 'the Azkals' will be far from full strength for the game, which kicks off at 7pm. Several 'Azkals' players have been unable to make it to Bahrain and are also expected to miss the Philippines' match against Kuwait on Saturday in the all-important first leg of their second round qualifying clash for a 2014 Fifa World Cup berth.
"We are missing five or six players; we are here with a young team and not our first squad," Weiss told the GDN. "Even against Kuwait we will not be complete. It will be this team along with one or two additional players, and that's it."
Despite this, 'the Azkals' went right back to work in preparation for tonight's friendly, which will be a second opportunity for them to adapt to the region's sweltering summer temperatures and gauge their level of readiness before flying off to Kuwait tomorrow.
"Playing these games here against Bahrain are really a big help to our team," said 'Azkals' co-captain Emelio Caligdong, who scored their lone goal on Saturday with a spectacular rocket from 30 yards out.
"This is a good challenge for us. It is our first time to play a Middle East team, and it is helping us get ready for Kuwait," Caligdong added. "We are also very happy with the great reception we have had from the fans here; we would like to thank everyone for that."
'The Azkals' trained for over an hour early yesterday evening at tonight's match venue. They capped it off with a scrimmage against the varsity football team from AMA International University Bahrain, who are the major sponsors of their visit. The game, which featured shortened halves, ended tied 1-1.
Right after their workout, Bahrain's Olympic squad took to the pitch. Coach Salman Shareeda said that he too is looking forward to tonight's clash.
"These matches are like a high form of training for both teams," Shareeda said yesterday. "I am very happy to be playing these friendly games and we welcome the Philippine team to Bahrain.
"For tomorrow, we have 26 players who are fit and ready. I gave a chance to some players in the first game on Saturday, and tomorrow I hope to give an opportunity to others. It will be a good game."
Meanwhile, coach Weiss acknowledged that the level of football in the Gulf is on a higher level than in the Philippines, where, largely because of 'the Azkals', the game is now experiencing a meteoric rise in popularity.
"Football is much more developed here; it is a religion here and they focus on it at a very young age," Weiss said. "The game is definitely highly advanced, and right now we cannot compare it with that in the Philippines, where it is now only growing.
"We rely on strong character and on Filipino players from outside to help football develop and bring it to a different level. But to be really be established in the football world, it will take another three to five years at least."
Tonight's match caps the first-ever Bahrain-Philippines Friendship Games, which have been organised by Creator Marketing Consultancy in partnership with the Bahrain Football Association and Philippine Football Federation.
Tickets for the game can be purchased at the venue.
Also yesterday, 'the Azkals' met with Philippine Ambassador to Bahrain Maria Corazon Yap-Bahjin during their visit to the Philippine Embassy.
Gulf Daily News