By Cedelf P. Tupas
MANILA — The Philippine Azkals leave for Manama, Bahrain, today for the final phase of their preparations for the second round World Cup qualifying duel against Kuwait on July 23.
The Azkals, who advanced to the second round for the first time following a 5-1 aggregate win over Sri Lanka early this month, will play two matches against the Bahrain Under-23 Olympic side upon the invitation of a group of Filipinos in coordination with the Bahrain Football Association.
The Azkals will be playing on Saturday at the National Stadium in Riffa and on Monday at the Muharraq Club stadium in Arad, according to a report posted on Gulf News Daily.
“The two matches in Bahrain will give us an idea of how things work,” said Azkals coach Michael Weiss.
The Azkals will also acclimatize with the sweltering conditions in the Middle East.
While the Azkals await the verdict on the appeal of suspended key players Aly Borromeo and Stephan Schrock, Weiss said the squad will be ready for Kuwait.
“It’s a blow definitely,” said Weiss. “I hope that (Jerry) Lucena or (Paul) Mulders could join the midfield with Manny Ott.”
Weiss said he was impressed with the returning Jason de Jong, who has missed the last five matches for the Azkals because of club commitments as well as disciplinary reasons.
Joining the mainstays in the team are returnees Patrick Hinrichsen and Yannick Tuason, who last saw action in the AFC Challenge Cup in Myanmar. OJ Porteria, selected from tryouts in the US, and goalkeeper Paolo Pascual are also part of the team.
Kuwait, also known as the Al-Azraq, showed superb form in a 2-0 victory over 2007 Asian Cup champions Iraq last night at the start of a four-nation tournament in Amman, Jordan.