Etheridge, Guirado injuries dent Azkals defense ahead of crunch clash against Turkmenistan
By Karlo Sacamos
A shorthanded Philippine men’s football team is leaving nothing to chance as it aims to seal its place in the semifinals of the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup on Saturday when it battles Turkmenistan in Male, Maldives.
Fresh from a breakthrough 2-0 victory over Laos on Thursday, the Azkals cap off their Group B campaign against a dangerous Turkmen side that is a two-time runner-up in the competition featuring emerging footballing nations in the continent.
Kickoff is set at 7 p.m. (PH time) with the action shifting to the island nation's capital after two matches in Addu City.
A draw is sufficient for the Azkals to claim one of two two Final Four slots in their bracket, where they are currently tied on top with Afghanistan with four points apiece, followed by Turkmenistan with three, and eliminated Laos, which has yet to register in the point column.
“But I think we now have to start treating it like: if you want to be champions in this tournament, then the mentality is always to beat the other team,” Azkals manager Dan Palami said, with the lofty goal of booking the lone ticket to the prestigious AFC Asian Cup next year in mind.
"If we want to win the championship, we have to beat everyone anyhow,” Philippine coach Thomas Dooley added. “We have to go to the next game and we want to win the next game no matter what.”
Recent history is on the Philippines’ side as the Filipinos edged the Turkmen, 1-0, in the qualifiers last year in Manila in a win that clinched the country’s entry to the group stage.
But the Filipino booters will be missing the services of two injured defensive stalwarts in goalkeeper Neil Etheridge and center-back Juani Guirado.
"It's (injuries) something we have to deal with and see what we have and we have great players on the bench who can come in and do the same job," said Dooley, who is expected to start ‘keeper Roland Muller anew and could field Jerry Lucena in Guirado’s place.
Turkmenistan likewise has its casualties in ‘keeper Nikita Gorbunov and defender Serdar Annaorazov, who are suspended after picking up straight red cards in their last match.