With performances dropping in their past few games, the Philippine Azkals are aiming for a better buildup as they brace for a final push for a place in the next round of World Cup and Asian Cup qualifying.
Unable to sustain their strong start, the Azkals fell to third spot with seven points behind North Korea (13) and Uzbekistan (nine) in Group H, their hopes of reaching the next round hanging by a thread.
The top team in the group will move on to the third round while four best second placers from the eight groups will also advance while getting an outright spot in the 2019 Asian Cup. The third-placed team in the group will be assured of a third round spot in Asian Cup qualifying.
Preparations have been far from ideal for the Azkals in the last few matches with players linking up just a few days before matches. Several players travel from Europe where their clubs are based while local based standouts are currently in their off season in the league, hurting their fitness levels.
The Azkals also had to endure long travels to North Korea and Bahrain last month where they picked up only a single point from their two matches. The team was playing Yemen at press time.
“It’s been a learning experience for us, not just for the players but for management and the federation as well,” said team manager Dan Palami before the Azkals played Yemen last night. “We learned that even the smallest of detail like flight schedules could greatly impact our games. We have to handle this home and away format better.”
Palami said he plans to hold a camp overseas before the matches against Uzbekistan in Tashkent on March 24 and North Korea in Manila on March 29.
“We have to put ourselves in a position where there’s less stress for our players,” said Palami.
Azkals coach Thomas Dooley said details like league schedules and just having players together for at least a week should already boost the team’s chances of playing better.
“We still have a chance so it’s important that we prepare well in the last two matches,” said Dooley.
Captain Phil Younghusband, who missed the game against Yemen last night due to suspension, is confident the Azkals can pull off the improbable.
“Nothing’s impossible in football and we’ve shocked a few people before,” said Younghusband. “I wouldn’t put it against us with two games left and we want to do the best that we can, although knowing that it will be difficult with Uzbekistan and North Korea.”