MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Azkals are excited to play again in front of their Filipino fans at the Rizal Memorial Stadium on Tuesday, June 5, when they take on Indonesia in a FIFA international friendly.
“It’s fantastic. I hope we really get a lot of people in the game to support us,” said midfielder James Younghusband.
It will be the second friendly match for the Azkals, who held the Malaysia Tigers to a goalless draw last Friday in Kuala Lumpur.
Many of the Azkals are looking forward to finally playing Indonesia at home, after failing to do so during the 2010 ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup.
That tournament two years ago brought the football team to the forefront of the national consciousness. When they made the semi-finals, they had a chance to play in front of the home crowd in the first leg against Indonesia.
The home game never happened, however, as no stadium in the Philippines at the time was up to AFF standards. Both matches were played at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Indonesia, and the home team advanced to the finals with an aggregate score of 2-0.
Azkals team captain Chieffy Caligdong expects the home crowd at Rizal Memorial to give the squad a big boost in tomorrow’s friendly.
“’Yung home court advantage, yun ang malaking bagay din... Para sa akin, maganda na dito gaganapin ‘yung game against sa Indonesia,” he said.
Caligdong said that if at least one leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup semi-finals had been played in the Philippines, it would have been a big factor.
“Siyempre, hindi na natin maibabalik ‘yun... Ngayon, alam na natin na lahat sumusuporta na dito, so wala ng excuses na hindi dito gaganapin,” Caligdong said.
“Masaya ang lahat na dito na ang laro, at para sa amin wala ng excuses na hindi kami maglalaro ng mabuti.”
Younghusband, for his part, said the crowd’s support will help the Azkals get going against Indonesia.
“When you’re playing, it’s always on you rmind that there are a lot of people watching and cheering, and it does give you an extra boost of adrenaline to go an inch further,” he said.
Much like the Azkals, the Indonesian team has undergone major changes since they last played in 2010. Only goal-keeper Markus Maulan, midfielder Okatovianus Maniani and forward Irfan Bachdim are left from the Suzuki Cup team that defeated the Azkals.
“It would be important to see how our team has progressed in the last one-and-half, two years after we faced Indonesia in the two legs in the Suzuki Cup in Jakarta. And then we’ll see how the two teams are six months ahead of the kick off for the Suzuki Cup this year,” said Azkals coach Michael Weiss.