by Olmin Leyba
MANILA, Philippines – After putting up what they considered as a strong showing in a 0-1 away defeat to world No. 74 Uzbekistan, the Philippine Azkals hope to get the job done against their next opponent in the joint Fifa World Cup-AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers – North Korea – which they host at the Rizal Memorial Stadium tomorrow night.
“We want to continue the hard work (from the previous game) against Uzbekistan and use that momentum to get a good result against the No. 2 ranked team in our group (North Korea),” team manager Dan Palami said.
Last Thursday, already saddled with personnel woes due to injuries, suspensions and retirement of key players, the Azkals found themselves further disadvantaged in Tashkent when OJ Porteria was sent off 10 minutes into the match against the White Wolves who were cheered on by 34,000 home fans. With Neil Etheridge making spectacular saves, Phl XI held its ground against Uzbeks’ searing assault most of the way but surrendered the game-winner to Anzur Isamailov.
Uzbekistan leads Group H with 18 points followed by North Korea with 16, Bahrain with nine and Phl with seven.
Misagh Bahadoran and Manny Ott, who served their suspensions in Tashkent, and Roland Muller, who was unavailable last week, have rejoined the Azkals for the duel with the Chollima. James Younghusband has also been called up but his brother Phil will still sit this one out due to injury.
The Azkals had their training at Rizal yesterday, a day after arriving from Tashkent. North Korea, which took a bye in the March 24 fixtures, arrived in Manila Saturday morning and immediately trained there.
“They (North Korea) are coming in fresh. They came ahead of us. But the players are eager to prove to the fans that we will be fighting from start to finish,” said Palami, whose wards previously bravely battled North Korea to a scoreless draw over in Pyongyang.
It was a long flight back to Manila from the Uzbek capital via Incheon but the Azkals had ample rest at the Transit Hotel in Incheon Airport before eventually flying home.
Although out of the 2018 World Cup, Phl is still in the hunt in the 2019 Asian Cup. A No. 3 standing at the end of group play will ensure the Pinoy booters outright qualification to third round of the Asian Cup.