Young centerback Amani Aguinaldo sees no reason to panic even as the Philippine Azkals look short on options in defense with the clash against Singapore looming in the opener of the AFF Suzuki Cup at Philippine Sports Stadium tomorrow.
With Daisuke Sato and Simone Rota ruled out due to club commitment and injury, respectively, and the likes of Rob Gier, Jerry Lucena and Juani Guirado retiring early this year, the 21-year-old Aguinaldo said he is ready to take on a bigger responsibility for an Azkals defense that has been a source of strength in previous Suzuki Cup tournaments.
“I know I have to step up my game and I have to be a leader at the back,” Aguinaldo told the Inquirer yesterday.
“I have to show that the team can rely on me.”
Aguinaldo rued Sato’s absence as the duo played solid in the 1-0 win over Kyrgyzstan last week. “We were starting to play well together. We have a good understanding being teammates at Global before.”
Martin Steuble, who has emerged as the first-choice rightback, will also miss the Singapore clash tomorrow due to suspension, after he was sent off in the second leg of the semifinals against Thailand two years ago.
Azkals coach Thomas Dooley is confident Aguinaldo can handle the challenge of leading the makeshift backline.
“We’re taking it on a game-to-game basis,” said Dooley on the status of the Azkals’ defense.
Although his role and responsibility is bigger now, Aguinaldo knows what he needs to do for the Azkals to succeed.
“My major task is to be the leader in the back,” he said, grateful that he had veterans like Gier to guide him in his early years with the team.
“I need to delegate tasks. I can’t do it by myself. I have to organize the defense, the shape and how to handle counterattacks,” added Aguinaldo.
Aguinaldo feels it’s about time the Azkals finally win a trophy.
“Over the years, we really wanted to win and prove that the Philippines is the best in Southeast Asia,” said Aguinaldo. “We need to win a major trophy.”