The Philippines faces its toughest challenge yet in Uzbekistan as the Azkals resume their World Cup Qualifying campaign on Sept. 8 at Philippine Sports Stadium in Bocaue, Bulacan.
Ranked No. 74 by Fifa, the Uzbeks will also be looking for their first victory in the qualifying tournament against the Azkals, who are running second to North Korea on goal difference in Group H after wins over Bahrain (2-1) and Yemen (2-0).
Having spent long hours the past two months studying Uzbekistan play, Dooley feels the Central Asians are the strongest team in Group H despite their 2-4 defeat to North Korea last June.
“Overall, it’s a very strong team, the best team in the group,” said Dooley Sunday before the Azkals started training for the first time since their 2-0 win over Yemen in Qatar last June 17.
“They make fewer mistakes and they don’t need a lot of chances to score.”
Two of Uzbekistan’s players see action in the Russian top flight —defender Vitaliy Denisov, who plays for Lokomotiv Moscow, and midfielder Odil Ahmedov, who plays for Krasnodar.
Still, Dooley remains upbeat of the Azkals’ chances.
“We’ll have our chances but each player should play 100 percent from the first minute to the last,” he said.
The Azkals will play the Maldives on Sept. 3 at Rizal Memorial Stadium in preparation for the duel against the Uzbeks.
Among the overseas-based players who joined training at PSS yesterday was winger Iain Ramsay. Jerry Lucena was expected to arrive last night, while Neil Etheridge, Roland Muller and Kevin Ingreso are arriving today.
Stephan Schrock planes in on Tuesday, with Javier Patino and Stephan Palla arriving the next day.
Luke Woodland will plane in on Sept. 6 as he is on trial with US Major League Soccer side New York Red Bulls.