By Cedelf Tupas
KUWAIT—A victory will be “massive” but a fighting draw against Kuwait will also be enough for the Philippine Azkals to leave this oil-rich country with a big measure of satisfaction.
As heavy underdogs in their second-round World Cup Qualifying clash, the Azkals are opting for a more conservative approach that could turn Saturday night’s match into a cagey encounter at the Mohammed El-Hammad Stadium in Hawalli.
“A 1-1 or 0-0 result will be huge for us,” skipper Aly Borromeo said. “If we let them whip us here, then the series is over. We are more worried about the first leg (on Saturday). It will set the tone for our home leg.”
The Azkals will have their turn hosting the Kuwaitis on July 28 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium. Tickets for the match are reportedly sold out.
For now, though, the focus is on neutralizing a vaunted Kuwaiti attack, which is enjoying a high level of confidence following impressive victories over Iraq and Saudi Arabia in a four-nation tournament in Jordan last week.
Borromeo said the pressure is on Kuwait to deliver a comprehensive win before its home fans.
“We’re always underdogs, so we’re not under pressure,” said the skipper, who is still awaiting the final decision on his one-game suspension for getting two yellow cards in the first-round win over Sri Lanka.
Though deprived of a complete lineup, Azkals coach Michael Weiss said he’s pleased with the buildup of his squad.
Leftback Ray Jonsson, who missed the Sri Lanka tie, was expected to arrive here yesterday, while goalkeeper Neil Etheridge will fly in on Friday.
“I’m quite content,” said Weiss. “I think that the boys are now counting the hours toward the match. As they say in England, it’s a massive match. It will give us an idea where we stand and I’m quite positive we can do well if we play the way we want to play.”
Weiss’ confidence stems from the fact that they have scouted the Kuwaitis well. “We have studied the opponent very carefully,” Weiss said. “The players know exactly what they are dealing with.”
The German mentor also shrugged off earlier fears that the warm weather here would pose a problem for his team, after supervising their first training Wednesday night where temperatures hovered from 32 to 38 degrees.
“It’s even more pleasant that the heat is not an issue,” said Weiss. “If (Wednesday night’s weather) is the same on Saturday, we would be fine.”
Kickoff is scheduled at 7 p.m. on Saturday (12 midnight Sunday in Manila).
Weiss acknowledged that a perfect execution of the game plan will be needed to stymie Kuwait.
“We have to be aggressive and tight and not let them start their game. That’s a thing that takes 90 minutes and we’ve seen before, small mistakes get punished immediately. They will not allow us to switch off our computer, as I always say, for one second.”