Being stuck in one of its worst runs of results in recent years hasn’t tilted the odds against the Philippines as it opens its AFC Asian Cup Qualifying campaign against Nepal on Tuesday at Rizal Memorial Stadium.
The Azkals are still fancied to pick up the full three points against the supposedly inferior Nepalese in the 8 p.m. kickoff, but they will be under scrutiny after an unconvincing display in the goalless draw against Malaysia in a friendly last Wednesday.
Tajikistan and Yemen clash in the other Group F match in Dushanbe. Only the top two teams from the group after the two-round home-and-away play will advance to the 24-team Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates in 2019.
The Philippines has never played in the continental showpiece tournament, although it came within a whisker of the event when it reached the finals of the AFC Challenge Cup in the Maldives only to lose to Palestine, 1-0.
After reaching new heights with a landmark 3-2 victory over North Korea in World Cup Qualifying last year, the Azkals have yet to pick up a win of the same magnitude.
A sad AFF Suzuki Cup stint, in which they failed to score in two of their three games and failed to return to the semifinals, has cranked up the pressure on the Azkals, who are winless in their last four matches.
“It motivates us, whatever happened in the past,” said Azkals skipper Phil Younghusband. “We’re confident we can do the job.”
The Azkals will miss Misagh Bahadoran (knee) and Kevin Ingreso (hamstring) due to injury.
Coach Thomas Dooley has also relieved Martin Steuble of national team duties, following a disagreement during the Malaysia match and in training the day after, according to sources. Dooley replaced him with Antonio Ugarte of Kaya.