By Cedelf P. Tupas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The Philippine Azkals face another stern test early next year when they battle reigning Suzuki Cup champion Malaysia in a Fifa-sanctioned friendly at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
With the match falling on an international friendly date on Feb. 29, the Azkals hope to have a full complement of players for the showdown against the Malaysians, who have won every major title in Southeast Asian since 2009.
Clubs are inclined to release players for national team duty during international friendly dates, which means the Azkals could have Europe-based standouts Stephan Schrock, Paul Mulders, Dennis Cagara, Jerry Lucena, Ray Jonsson and goalkeepers Neil Etheridge and Roland Muller for the match.
“It will be another good test for our team,” said Philippine Football Federation president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta Monday. “As we have said in the past, playing more international matches will only improve our team.”
The match against Malaysia will form the final phase of the preparation of the Azkals for the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup in Kathmandu, Nepal, where they have been grouped with North Korea, Tajikistan and India.
The Malaysians are ranked four places higher than the Azkals in the Fifa rankings at No. 155.
The friendly will mark Malaysia’s first return to the Rizal Memorial since 1991 when it lost in an upset to the Philippines, 0-1, in the SEA Games.