THE PHILIPPINES may have sent Bahrain reeling with a stunning 2-1 upset in their World Cup Qualifying opener Thursday night but Azkals manager Dan Palami is quick to dismiss any thought that the next game against Yemen will be easier for the squad.
Palami saw enough of Yemen’s World Cup Qualifying opener against North Korea to conclude that the Azkals are in for a dogfight when they meet in Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday.
Yemen lost to North Korea, 0-1, but the Yemenis—who are playing all their home games in Doha due to security concerns in their own country—had their moments, especially in the first half when they put their opponents on the backfoot.
“It’s certainly not going to be an easy game for us,” said Palami. “Just because we beat Bahrain, that doesn’t mean we will get past Yemen. They lose by narrow margins against stronger teams and can put us under pressure.”
The margin for error is slim for the Azkals in a tough Group H with the top team in the bracket advancing to the third round. The four best second placers in the eight qualifying groups will also advance to the next round.
But unlike other groups where there is a huge gap in quality among the teams, the Azkals landed in a very competitive bracket that also includes Uzbekistan.
“If we have a goal to be among the best second placers, we have to win these first two games,” said Azkals coach Thomas Dooley. “When you look at the groups, most of the time, the second placers are looking at the goal differential. But with the group that we have, it’s very very difficult.”
Dooley said the Azkals must take a do-or-die mentality in every game.
“We can only reach our goal if we’re getting points,” he said. “We really have to push hard to get it (the win against Yemen) and get everything that we want like a do-or-die game.”
Meanwhile, Luke Woodland remains doubtful for the Yemen clash as he awaits his clearance from the International Football Federation (Fifa). Woodland’s case is unique since his transfer of “sporting nationality” needed the approval of the English, Ireland, Wales and Scotland FAs as the 19-year-old played for England at the youth level.
The Fifa Players’ Status Committee will decide on Woodland, who was supposed to start ahead of Rob Gier in the win over Bahrain.
Ruled out of the clash against Yemen after sustaining a knee injury against Bahrain, Stephan Schrock left the Azkals camp in Doha and returned to Germany to recuperate.