By Cedelf P. Tupas
Three teams that have beaten the Philippines in recent years stand in the way of the Azkals in their bid to advance past the second round of the 2018 World Cup Qualifying starting in June.
The Azkals were drawn with Uzbekistan, Bahrain, North Korea and Yemen in Group H which is considered one of the toughest groups in the qualifying stage.
Teams will play a double round format with the No. 1 in the group clinching a place in the third round. The top four second best teams among the eight groups will also advance and gain automatic qualification to the Asian Cup in 2019.
Uzbekistan, fielding its Under-23 side, beat the Azkals three years ago in a tuneup match in Dubai, while North Korea, which qualified for the 2010 World Cup, also got the better of the Filipinos in the AFC Challenge Cup in 2012.
Bahrain has hosted three Azkals’ training camps in the last two years. The Bahrainis survived a gritty performance from the Azkals, 2-1, in their friendly late last month in Manama.
Yemen has not been playing matches at home due to security concerns. The Yemenis reached the second round by subduing Pakistan, 3-1, on aggregate in their playoff last month.
The Azkals begin their campaign at home on June 11 against Bahrain with the match most likely to be played at Philippine Sports Stadium in Bulacan. They travel to play Yemen on June 16, before a Sept. 8 duel at home with Uzbekistan, the top-ranked team in the group.
Read more: http://sports.inquirer.net/178038/tough-world-cup-qualifying-group-for-azkals#ixzz3XHu6QQVE