By: Cedelf P. Tupas
The Philippine Azkals remain in search for an opponent for an international friendly on Sept. 3 as they prepare for a crucial World Cup Qualifying duel with Uzbekistan at Philippine Sports Stadium.
After talks with Vietnam and Thailand fizzled out, the Philippine Football Federation is now eyeing New Zealand or Maldives to play against the Azkals.
PFF president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta said they are still waiting for a response from their New Zealand counterparts. The PFF is also sending an invitation to the Maldives for a friendly match. If the match against Maldices pushes through, it will mark the first time the two countries clash after their memorable AFC Challenge Cup semifinal duel won by the Azkals, 3-2, in extra time in Male last year.
The game against Uzbekistan is slated Sept. 8. with the Azkals gunning for a third straight win in Group H. North Korea is on top of the group ahead of the Azkals on goal difference.
Azkals manager Dan Palami has called on Filipinos to support the team in what is seen as their toughest test yet against the Uzbeks who are ranked No. 75 by Fifa.
“Let’s take advantage of the hometown matches by watching the Azkals play live,” he said. “The Azkals will be playing for the country’s honor. The fans’ support will count a lot.”
Palami recalled the time when the Azkals were not even able to play at home due to a lack of a suitable venue.
“We are fortunate to see our Azkals playing more home games, unlike in the past where we had only a few home games,” he said. “The team has worked so hard to improve and hopefully they get a morale boost with huge crowd support at home.
The top team in each of the eight groups plus the four second-best teams will advance to the next round of qualifying apart from clinching an outright berth to the AFC Asian Cup in the UAE in 2019. CFC