By Olmin Leyba
MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Azkals returned to training camp yesterday, hoping to regain the fiery form that propelled them to a 2-0 start in Group H of the Fifa World Cup qualifiers in the next nine days before facing powerhouse Uzbekistan.
The Pinoy booters, who beat Bahrain (2-1) and Yemen (2-0) last June, will gun for their third straight win against the Uzbeks on Sept. 8 at the Philippine Sports Stadium.
“Ready to work hard and prepare for our big game against Uzbekistan,” said Fil-Aussie winger Iain Ramsay, the first among the overseas-based stalwarts to hit town.
He arrived last Friday and has since joined his teammates in making rounds on TV and radio to promote their fixture with the Uzbeks, the top-ranked side in the group, before practice got going in Bulacan yesterday.
“They (Uzbekistan) may have lost to North Korea in their (first game in WCQ, 2-4) but we still think they are the strongest team in the group,” said team manager Dan Palami.
He reiterated that it’s still a long way to go in the double-round robin group qualifiers.
“We can’t be complacent after our two wins,” said Palami.
Before their duel with Uzbekistan, the Azkals will first play Maldives in an international friendly on Sept. 3 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
The Maldivians, whom the Azkals had vanquished in the semis of the 2014 Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup over in Male, are in Manila to prepare for their Sept. 8 World Cup qualifiers match against China in Group C.
Maldives played United Football League first division club Stallion FC last Saturday night at Rizal Memorial, a friendly that ended in a 2-2 draw.
Mohamed Umair gave Maldives a 1-0 lead in the 33rd but Stallion equalized via a penalty converted by Ruben Doctora 20 minutes later. Jordan Mintah put Stallion ahead with 59th minute header but the Maldivians drew level in the 75th via Ahmed Imad’s goal.