By Cedelf P. Tupas
UWAIT—Their combined age is just three years older than the Philippine Azkals’ most senior member, but the heavy burden on their young shoulders doesn’t seem to bother Manny Ott and Jason de Jong.
With the more experienced midfielders unavailable because of club commitments, Ott, 19, and De Jong, 21, are expected to be deployed as central midfielders in the highly anticipated second-round World Cup Qualifying clash against Kuwait on Saturday.
The top three choices for the two positions—Stephan Schrock, Jerry Lucena and Paul Mulders—will miss the Kuwait match.
Teams in the Middle East are known for their physical and rugged style, but Ott and De Jong, the tough-tackling Fil-Dutch standout, feel they are ready for the challenge.
Ott hones his skills with FC Ingolstadt in Germany and has mixed it up with more experienced players.
“I’m used to playing against bigger players even though I am Asian-size,” said the 5-foot-6 Ott, whose mother hails from Boracay in Malay, Aklan.
“I just want to do my best and help the team. I don’t want to be pressured. I want to enjoy the game.”
It’s this easygoing personality that has endeared Ott to the Azkals, whose most senior member is Roel Gener, 37.
While Ott is known for his calm demeanor, De Jong, who traces his roots in Tarlac, has established a reputation as one who plays with a lot of tenacity.
The central midfield partnership will mark the first time that both Ott and De Jong will play together since the Suzuki Cup in Laos last year.
“My role is always to be like the extra man in front of the defense, you know like play hard physically and just let no balls come through,” said De Jong.
“I’m just here to help, and let’s see what’s gonna happen.”
Skipper Aly Borromeo sees the partnership as crucial if the Azkals are to stifle Kuwait’s attacking game.
“If Manny and Jason can overcome their midfield, I think we have chance,” said Borromeo.