DUBAI—Surprisingly level with China at the end of the first round of matches in Fifa World Cup and AFC Asian Cup Qualifying, the Philippines seeks payback against another powerhouse in Group A as the Azkals take on Syria anew on Tuesday at Al Maktoum Bin Rashid Stadium here.
The Azkals arrived in this bustling economic hub in high spirits after their 2-1 away win over the Maldives in Male last Thursday.
But they’ll be battling a Syrian side that has won all of its matches so far, including a tough 2-1 victory over China last Thursday that kept China at seven points just like the Azkals after four matches.
Syria came from behind to drub the Azkals, 5-2, in their first round duel at Panaad Stadium last September in Bacolod City – a result that left a bitter taste for captain Stephan Schrock.
“That was a hard result to swallow that night so we’re looking for redemption,” said Schrock. “We’re looking to learn from our mistakes. The next game will prove that we learn from our mistakes. We took in even more tactical stuff for this match and we’re looking to connect better on the pitch.”
Azkals coach Scott Cooper said his team “got too brave and adventurous” against the Syrians in their initial meeting. “We saw in Bacolod how strong and talented they are, but we rocked them in the first 20 minutes so that gives us confidence,” said Cooper.
The race for the top spot in the group remains open with Syria holding a five-point edge over China and the Philippines.
A win for the Azkals will trim that gap to just two points with the Philippines still to play Maldives and Guam at home next year. The other Azkals assignment in June 2019 will be against China on enemy ground.
Only the top team in the group will advance to the third round of qualifying together with the four best second-placed teams from the eight qualifying brackets.