HONG KONG—Relaxed and confident, the Philippines tangles with Hong Kong Tuesday night in an international friendly aimed at boosting its rising stock in the continent and toughening up the Azkals for the AFC Challenge Cup next year.
The match is set at 7:30 p.m. at Mongkok Stadium with the Azkals facing a team loaded with European expatriates that has produced some impressive results in Asian Cup Qualifying the past few months.
“It’s a good gauge at where we stand now in Asia,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami.
The Philippines is ranked higher than Hong Kong but the hosts have the pedigree and reputation which explains why, unlike the Azkals, they are competing in the Asian Cup Qualifying rather than the AFC Challenge Cup.
“Hong Kong is traditionally a strong team that can give teams like ours a really difficult time,” Palami added. “We will be tested.”
The Azkals have not played since the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers last March in Manila and players like James Younghusband have welcomed the light, pressure-free atmosphere within the team for this trip.
“These matches give us a chance to bond as a team, not just to play,” said Younghusband.
The friendly has allowed the likes of Europe-based players Stephan Schrock, Rob Gier, Neil Etheridge and Paul Mulders to link up with their Philippine-based teammates.
Nonetheless, Azkals coach Michael Weiss remains adamant of a strong performance from the team in their first meeting with Hong Kong since the thrilling 3-3 draw in the Long Teng Cup in Taiwan in 2011.
Weiss is wary of the physical conditioning of his overseas-based players.
“Some players have played so much,” said Weiss. “Some players have not played a lot. We have to find the right balance.”
Weiss said there’s no guarantee of a victory against Hong Kong even with the talismanic Schrock around.
“Hong Kong is a very strong team, we cannot be complacent at all,” he said of its opponent which held powerhouse Uzbekistan to a draw recently.