Challenge Cup-bound Azkals eye fitting sendoff in Cebu friendly against Malaysia
By Karlo Sacamos
A SENDOFF fit for a king in the Queen City of the South.
That’s what Philippine men’s foot ball team hopes to achieve in its return friendly against Malaysia on Sunday before embarking on its most important international tournament yet.
In their first and last home game before the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup, the Azkals battle the Malaysians once again after both squads settled for a scoreless draw last March.
A sellout partisan crowd is expected in the 7 p.m. affair at the Cebu City Sports Center.
“It’s always good to have a game for the fans to see what we can do especially for the players,” Azkals coach Thomas Dooley said in the pre-match press conference on Saturday. “I want to use this to motivate my players that they think for the Challenge Cup.”
The last time the Filipino booters played in Cebu was in November 2012 where they nipped Singapore, 1-0, in a friendly that also served as a sendoff for their Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup campaign.
Without a handful of injured booters like Phil Younghusband and unavailable overseas-based standouts, Dooley has given a chance anew for others to step up, even bestowing Anton del Rosario the captain’s armband.
Carli de Murga and Roxy Dorlas make their respective returns, while Joven Bedic dons the country’s colors for the first time as they join a developing, sleek-passing national side that has made gains in its last international training camp in Qatar, where the Filipino booters outplayed Nepal, 3-0, and drew with Qatari club Al-Ahli, 1-1.
“Now we just need to raise our level,” Dooley, former US World Cup skipper, said. “They can compete against Malaysia, all those teams. We are not in the same level as Japan but that's the goal we need to attain.”
Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee expects the rematch to be “much tougher,” but is still aiming for a good result.