ALREADY facing tough odds to keep third spot in their group in Asian World Cup Qualifying, the Philippine Azkals will battle powerhouse Uzbekistan on March 24 in Tashkent without several key players who will either serve a suspension or nursing an injury.
Midfielder Manny Ott and winger Misagh Bahadoran will miss the clash after picking up their second yellow card of the competition in the Azkals’ 0-1 defeat to Yemen last November while Kevin Ingreso is doubtful due to an injury he sustained while playing for Ceres-La Salle in the AFC Cup last week.
Phil Younghusband is available for selection again after missing out against Yemen, but the skipper has not seen action for his club, Loyola Meralco, since the start of the UFL Cup this year due to a knee injury.
And while Younghusband is expected to recover in time for the Uzbekistan game, concerns about his match fitness abound as he has not played a competitive match since the Azkals’ 0-2 loss to Bahrain in October last year in Manama.
“It’s going to be tough for the team, but we can’t go to Tashkent thinking we can’t get points there,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami. “The strength of our team has been its never say die spirit and resilience and we hope we can summon that in the last two games particularly for our away match against Uzbekistan.”
Uzbekistan dealt the Azkals a 1-5 beating at Philippine Sports Stadium last September. The Azkals will face North Korea at Rizal Memorial Stadium on March 29. With just seven points from six matches, the Azkals are in third spot, just ahead of Bahrain on goal difference.
Azkals coach Thomas Dooley has widened his pool to 32 players, including youngsters who have impressed in the UFL early this season, including Kouichi Belgira, Dominic Del Rosario, Jim Ashley Flores, OJ Clariño and Jorrel Aristorenas. Dooley will trim the squad to 23 players before leaving for Tashkent via Incheon this Sunday.