If this match took place a couple of years ago, it would have been easy to dismiss any chance of an upset by the Philippines over a formidable and experienced Uzbekistan side.
But the steady rise of the Azkals during the tenure of coach Thomas Dooley has the team looking primed for a reversal when it squares off with the Central Asian powerhouse Tuesday night in Group H of World Cup Qualifying at Philippine Sports Stadium in Bocaue, Bulacan.
Kickoff is at 8 p.m. with the Azkals seeking to keep their perfect record in qualifying, following a couple of impressive wins over Bahrain (2-1) and Yemen (2-0) to start their campaign last June.
But Uzbekistan, ranked No. 71 by Fifa, will be the highest-placed team the Azkals will be facing, and skipper Phil Younghusband can’t help but liken the situation in the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup, when the team upset defending champion Vietnam.
The Uzbeks are third in the group following a 1-0 win over Yemen last Thursday in Tashkent that came after a 2-4 loss to North Korea in Pyongyang.
“We are the clear underdogs,” said Dooley. “But we can make so much happen if everybody fights for the team. We expect (Uzbekistan) to show us what football is all about.”
The Azkals will miss Rob Gier and Simone Rota due to injuries, but Luke Woodland arrived Sunday morning from his trial with the New York Red Bulls.
Uzbekistan coach Samvel Babayan is aware of the Azkals’ threat and points to Younghusband as the player to “neutralize so that we can build our game.”
The Uzbeks boasts two-time Asian Player of the Year Server Djeparov and Russian League standouts in defender Vitaly Denisov and winger Odil Ahmedov.