By FRANCIS SANTIAGO
Game Thursday (Rizal Memorial Football Stadium)
7 p.m. — Kuwait vs Philippines
MANILA, Philippines — While everybody broke into laughter, Philippine football team manager Dan Palami responded seriously when a sportswriter asked if the natural disasters such as the earthquake and typhoon the country has experienced the past few days could be seen as a good omen for their looming match.
The question somehow has relevance. Earthquakes appear to follow the Azkals wherever they go, and on those occasions, the Azkals emerged victorious each time.
An instance was when a magnitude 9 quake rocked Japan, site of the Azkals training, last March 11. The Azkals went on to advance to the Asian Football Confederation finals weeks later.
There was also a heavy downpour when the Azkals completed a 4-0 rout of Sri Lanka in the first round of the World Cup qualifiers early this month.
A magnitude 6.2 quake rocked parts of Luzon Tuesday while tropical depression “Juaning” battered Luzon, leaving 10 people dead.
“I hope so,” Palami answered during the Philippine Sportswriters Association Forum on Tuesday. “If the confluence of events like a typhoon and an earthquake is what it takes to bring us to the third round then we’ll be happy.”
Palami’s answer is understandable.
The Azkals will need all the help they could muster, even from Mother Nature, to keep their World Cup dream alive as they face Kuwait tonight in the second leg of their second round qualifying match at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
But many are convinced the Azkals need a miracle to overcome the odds.
Kick-off is at 7 p.m. with the Azkals needing to win by four goals or more to tame the Middle East power and reach the third round for the first time.
A win by three goals by the Azkals will force an extra time.
Unable to stick to their game plan in their first meeting, the Azkals yielded a 0-3 away defeat on Saturday in Kuwait.
“We need a miracle,” Palami said.
Faced with the urgency to score more goals, Azkals coach Michael Weiss said Monday that he intends to change his strategy from being too defensive to a little aggressive in the hope of creating more opportunities.
“We will loosen up a bit in defense, press early and look for an early goal just like against Sri Lanka,” the 46-year-old German coach said. “But it’s risky.”
The return of skipper Aly Borromeo and Fil-German Stephan Schrock from one-game suspensions augurs well for their planned forceful stance of the Azkals, Weiss said.
Palami believes the home crowd will spell the difference, and so is the expected heavy downpour.
A sell-out crowd of 13,000 is expected at the historic venue while PAGASA forecasts “Juaning” to bring more rains after making a landfall in Quezon province Wednesday morning.
“I think it (rain) will be a disadvantage to them because they’re not used to it,” Palami said of the team from the Gulf region.
Meanwhile, the Philippines dropped three notches down to 162nd in the latest FIFA rankings, while Kuwait jumped seven spots up to 95th.