by Olmin Leyba
MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Azkals brace for a grueling journey as they head to North Korea then Bahrain for their next assignments in the Fifa World Cup qualifiers.
The Azkals, who sit third in Group H with six points on two wins and a loss, will face unbeaten leader North Korea (nine points) on Thursday at Kim Il-Sung Stadium in Pyongyang. After this, they will meet Bahrain (three points) over at the Bahrain National Stadium in Riffa on Oct. 13.
“Hopefully the players will not be too tired. It’s a very taxing trip for our players, especially those who are coming from Europe,” Philippine Football Federation general-secretary Edwin Gastanes said yesterday on the sidelines of “The Business of Sports” Conference coinciding with the Asia Sports Industry Awards.
Since there’s no direct flight from Manila to Pyongyang, the Phl-based Azkals will first fly to Beijing, China on Sunday then take a flight to the North Korean capital. Players based in Europe will go to Frankfurt first before catching a plane to Beijing then boarding another flight to Pyongyang.
With the next game against Bahrain set just five days later, the Azkals will have to immediately fly to Manama after the North Korea fixture. This will take them back to Beijing, then Abu Dhabi before reaching Bahrain.
“It’s very taxing but I know our players are motivated to win games and give honor to us,” said Gastanes.