The Philippine Azkals fly to Guangzhou on Monday for its most high-profile international friendly yet aimed at sharpening them for the AFC Asian Cup Qualifying game against Tajikistan.
The Azkals face China on Wednesday night at Tianhe Stadium in Guangzhou, marking the first time in recent memory that the two countries are facing off.
But the more important match for the Azkals will be on June 13 in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe, where they are gunning for a second straight win in Group F of the qualifying stage against Tajikistan at Central Republican Stadium.
Azkals coach Thomas Dooley has called up 23 players for the trip to China and Tajikistan, including veterans Phil and James Younghusband and newcomer Ace Villanueva of Meralco Manila and Ceres-Negros stalwarts Manny Ott, Kevin Ingreso, Iain Ramsay, Luke Woodland, Junior Munoz and Jeffrey Christiaens.
Also in the lineup are Global Cebu’s Patrick Deyto, Nicholas O’Donnell, Misagh Bahadoran, Amani Aguinaldo, Dennis Villanueva and Pika Minegishi, Kenshiro Daniels and Antonio Ugarte of Kaya Makati, Fitch Arboleda of Stallion Laguna and Dominic Del Rosario of Ilocos United. JPV Marikina defender Camelo Tacusalme was also included in the squad, which will be beefed up by foreign based players Javier Patino (Henan Jianye), Daisuke Sato (Iasi) and Mike Ott (Angthong United).
First choice goalkeeper Neil Etheridge said he was skipping the two matches in preparation for his move to Cardiff City in the English Championship, which is just a level below the English Premier League.
“I’ve always put the Azkals first, but this is a slightly personal move for me, a massive move in my career and I can’t jeopardize it,” Etheridge told the Inquirer.
Etheridge’s contract with Cardiff starts on July 1.