Riding high on an impressive performance against Singapore three nights ago, the Philippines battles Laos Monday night at the National Stadium in Vientiane as it continues its preparations for the AFF Suzuki Cup.
The Azkals have not won in their last three meetings with the Laotians, but they will go into the 7 p.m. clash armed with a lot of confidence after a stunning 2-0 victory over Singapore.
“We’re obviously not going to be carried away with this (win over Singapore),” said defender Rob Gier. “It was a friendly and it doesn’t really mean that much, but it was big for our confidence.”
“Putting it into context, these matches are still part of the Suzuki Cup preparations, but winning will surely send a message (to the rest of Southeast Asia),” said Azkals manager Dan Palami.
The Filipino side will miss Phil and James Younghusband who have returned to Manila as they mark the first anniversary of their mother’s death, and Jerry Lucena, who flew back to Denmark to prepare for his club team’s match on Friday.
Still, the squad boasts plenty of quality with the presence of Stephan Schrock—the man of the match against Singapore—and Paul Mulders, the Dutch first division veteran, who will occupy the spot just behind striker Denis Wolf.
Patrick Reichelt is in line for his first international start in the absence of James Younghusband on the right wing, while Marwin Angeles and Anto Gonzales are competing to take over Lucena’s spot at midfield.
Notwithstanding their first win over the Lions in 40 years, the Azkals have no illusions of stamping their class over Laos in their first meeting since the Philippines rallied from two goals down to force a 2-2 draw in the Suzuki Cup Qualifying in 2010.
“This is going to be a totally different game (compared to Singapore),” said Gier. “A lot of the players are tired. We’re still not at the level to go into Laos and win easily.”
The Azkals will be looking to preserve their impressive defensive record in the last two games, where they have yet to concede a single goal.
Gier, who is close to top form after struggling with a series of injuries early in the year, and Jason Sabio have formed a solid combination at the backline with Carli de Murga and newcomer Jeff Christiaens also making their mark.
The match in Laos will cap a three-country Southeast Asian swing for the Azkals, who opened the trip with a scoreless draw against Cambodia in Phnom Penh last Wednesday.