By Cedelf Tupas
MANAMA—The Philippine Azkals left for Kuwait last night confident of pushing the heavily favored Middle East team to the limit in their second-round World Cup Qualifying clash, despite losing two test matches against Bahrain’s Under-23 Olympic Team here.
Coach Michael Weiss took the Azkals’ 1-3 setback at the Al-Muharraq Club Stadium Monday night in stride, opting to focus on the positives and on the hot weather, which he fears might take a toll on his players.
“Taking into consideration the whole development process, it was a fantastic match and a fantastic camp, especially for the young players and the new ones,” said Weiss, whose squad played at temperatures of between 30 and 32 degrees.
The weather in Kuwait City, though, is expected to be warmer and should hover between 36 and 40 degrees.
“Now everyone knows that the Gulf region is the standard that we need to look at, and the fact that we were able to experience it here makes it better for us,” said Weiss.
The German coach’s statement was echoed by team manager Dan Palami, who said their stint on this island in the northern Persian Gulf is one of “the better organized camps.”
“It will give the boys something to think about as we head over to face Kuwait,” Palami said.
Sustaining his stellar form, Chieffy Caligdong headed home the only goal for the Azkals, who fell two behind after 41 minutes.
Caligdong, who also scored in the 1-2 loss to the same Bahrainis Saturday night, sent Manny Ott’s teasing ball to the bottom right corner, cutting the deficit to 1-2 at halftime.
The Azkals made three changes to the side that lost the first match last Saturday, with Phil Younghusband, Angel Aldeguer and Jason Sabio inserted into the starting lineup.
Younghusband, still recovering from a hamstring injury, and Aldeguer, who is slowed down by a knee problem, played together for only 65 minutes.
Poor defending left the Azkals undone, though, with the last goal by Sayed Alawi two minutes into second-half injury time infuriating Weiss. Alawi easily beat Eduard Sacapano.
Bahrain took the lead in the 36th minute through substitute Ahmed Juma, who banged home a free header from a corner, before Hisham Mansor doubled the edge with a thunderous strike from just inside the box.
Weiss said the Azkals’ chances against Kuwait could not be gauged based on the results against Bahrain.
“It’s very difficult to say because it is not the team that will play on Saturday,” said Weiss, who expects Rob Gier, Ray Jonsson and Neil Etheridge to beef up the Azkals’ lineup.
Weiss is still hopeful that Paul Mulders, the Fil-Dutch attacking midfielder, will be allowed to play by his club ADO Den Haag, which is competing in the Europa League.
The team is also awaiting the verdict of the Philippine Football Federation’s appeal on the one-match ban on Aly Borromeo and Stephan Schrock.