By Olmin Leyba
DOHA – On a high from their epic reversal over fancied Bahrain last week, the Philippine Azkals fight off overconfidence as they seek a followup victory against a lower-ranked rival from war-torn Yemen tonight in the Fifa World Cup qualifiers at Qatar Sports Club Stadium here.
“I think the biggest stumbling block will be ourselves. I mean, if we come into the game overconfident, we might find ourselves in trouble against a Yemeni team that might not be as tactically and technically as good as Bahrain but certainly doesn’t lack the heart to fight it out,” team manager Dan Palami said.
“But I’m quite confident if we play the same way we played against Bahrain then we stand a good chance of getting the three points,” he added.
All points lead to the Azkals enjoying the edge in the 7 p.m. encounter (12 a.m. Wednesday in Manila).
The 137th ranked Pinoy booters, bannered by what many consider as the strongest team to date, ambushed No. 106 Bahrain, 2-1, at home. For its part, Yemen, 167th in the Fifa rankings, had little training due to armed conflict back home. The squad took a 13-hour boat ride out of Aden in difficult conditions en route to Djibouti, from where they took a five-hour flight to Qatar for their “home matches.” The Yemenis lost to North Korea, 0-1, Thursday.
“Yemen is 30 points behind us. But we were also 30 points behind Bahrain and we won against Bahrain. So I don’t see any reason why Yemen can’t do the same to us,” said coach Thomas Dooley.
“Yemen’s ranking is not necessarily an accurate reflection of the quality of the team. They have some technically very good players. We’re expecting another tough game and we’re preparing for it the way we prepared against Bahrain, as if we’re playing against Uzbekistan or everyone else. We can’t take any team lightly and there are no easy games,” defender Rob Gier said.
The Azkals will miss injured mainstays Stephan Schrock and Simone Rota while Luke Woodland is still doubtful pending clearance to switch nations for the Fifa.
“That’s a cause for other players to step up. Same thing that happened in the first game when Misagh came (for the hobbling Schrock), he performed. That should be the same tomorrow for those who will be fielded in,” said Palami.
Gier said it’s imperative to dish out a “professional performance” and sustain a high level of hard work.
“Those were the basis of our win against Bahrain. Everyone got their ground covered, they put their bodies on the line and made tackles,” he said.
The Azkals expect a good-sized crowd to rally them on, tapping the big Filipino community here.
“We know when we play in Qatar, we have great support. We always look forward to playing abroad where Filipinos are supporting us,” said Dooley.