By Olmin Leyba
MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Azkals gear up for a strong start in their pair of Fifa World Cup qualifiers matches this month against Bahrain and Yemen to build momentum and confidence for the remainder of hostilities in tough Group H.
The Azkals will host Bahrain on Thursday at the Philippine Sports Stadium, then play Yemen on June 16 at Qatar Sports Stadium in Doha. After that, they will face Uzbekistan at home on Sept. 8 and North Korea in Pyongyang on Oct. 8 to complete their assignments in the first half of the home-and-away, double round robin competition.
“Every game will be difficult so I think it’s important we have a good start. If we can get a good result against Bahrain and Yemen, that would put us in a good position to do well in the rest of the group,” said Phil Younghusband.
Coach Thomas Dooley said they would definitely go for the three points in every fixture, given the quality of the opposition.
“We have in my opinion the most difficult group to play against. We don’t play against Australia, Japan, or South Korea but we play teams that’s not easy to get a point against. We have to win games.
“I believe we’re not going through goal differential because teams in this groups, they’re not like Laos or Cambodia or Guam where we can get 4-0, 5-0. We have to beat them, even by 1-0, especially since we’re playing them twice,” he said.
The group winners along with the four best second-placers among the eight groups will advance to the third round.
“Our goal, which is a realistic one, is to finish in second place. If everybody steps up and plays 100 percent we can achieve this. I believe in our team. They just shouldn’t be afraid of anybody, (believe that) every single game we have, we have a chance to win,” said Dooley, a former captain of the US World Cup team.
Top-level recruits Iain Ramsay, Luke Woodland, Kevin Ingreso and Stephan Palla and comebacking Stephan Schrock and Javier Patino are teaming up with holdovers like Rob Gier, Younghusband, Neil Etheridge, Juani Guirado, Jerry Lucena, Misagh Bahadoran, Patrick Reichelt and Martin Steuble for this campaign.
“With the training they’re having and the strength of the team, I think the team will go a long way and I think this is our best chance to qualify for the next round of the World Cup qualifiers,” said Philippine Football Federation president Nonong Araneta.