Uzbekistan has yet to hit its stride in Group H of World Cup Qualifying, but that doesn’t mean the job will be easier for the Philippines when they clash Tuesday at Philippine Sports Stadium in Bocaue, Bulacan.
Despite their billing as the top seed in the group, the Uzbeks are still far from their best as they lost their opening match to North Korea, 2-4, last June and managed a 1-0 win over Yemen at home last Thursday.
The Central Asians arrived in Manila Sunday night via a chartered flight from Tashkent and immediately went straight to training at the Ateneo pitch. They face the Azkals at 8 p.m.
“They have now a point to prove,” said Azkals defender Gier who also does scouting for the team.
Gier will miss the game after undergoing surgery on his knee last week but has made it a point to be in the camp as one of the acknowledged leaders in the squad.
“They (Uzbeks) have a new coach and they will be coming out wanting to make a point,” said Gier. “They cant afford any more slipups. We are the underdogs in that game, to be honest. but the form we are in, I dont see any reason we cant win.”
Azkals manager Dan Palami shares Gier’s optimism.
“I think that will be the toughest challenge that we had just like the old Azkals facing Kuwait,” said Palami recalling the time the national side faced the Middle East powerhouse four years ago in the second round of qualifying.
The Azkals lost the two legged tie 1-6 that saw them get eliminated from the competition.
“I’m quite confident that somehow it will not be easy for Uzbekistan,” said Palami.
The Azkals scored a comfortable 2-0 win over the Maldives last Thursday in a game where coach Thomas Dooley shuffled players out of positions and rested some of his standouts.
“They Uzbeks had a scout here their technical director was here and we hope we were able to send him the wrong signals,” said Palami.
Azkals goalkeeper Neil Etheridge will be coming into the Uzbekistan game in fine form, having conceded just twice for Walsall in League One, the second tier in English football.
“We got great goalkeeping options and that’s a strong part of the team,” said Etheridge, who is expected to get the starting job ahead of Roland Muller. “I came here with confidence. I’ve had seven games, six wins and one draw. Its been fantastic but my focus at the moment is with the Azkals.”