MANILA, Philippines – Anticipation is palpable in the air as the Philippines faces 3-time AFF Suzuki Cup winners Singapore in the first leg of the semifinal tie between the two sides at the historic Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in Manila on Saturday, December 8.
The match is historic for Filipinos as this will be the Azkals’ first-ever home game in the biennial competition.
Back in 2010, the Philippines had to endure the intimidating atmosphere of Jakarta’s Gelora Bung Karno Stadium twice as the country then had no suitable venue to host the home tie. The Philippines eventually fell to the Indonesian team 2-0 on aggregate, losing both ties 1-0.
This time around, the Rizal Memorial Stadium is now on par to host international matches after it hosted a number of matches already, including the 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, the Philippine Football Peace Cup and the match against Los Angeles Galaxy. The renovation of the stadium also paved way for the home game to be approved by the tournament organizers.
Path to the semis
The Philippine team once again proved their doubters wrong by repeating their 2010 feat, advancing to the semifinals of the competition for the second straight iteration.
This, despite the Azkals starting off on the wrong foot.
The team first had to endure the pain of a 2-1 defeat against host Thailand in their opening match of the competition, with Paul Mulders netting the consolation for the Azkals.
Following their opener, the Philippines was faced with a do-or-die game against top-ranked Vietnam, only their second meeting since the Philippines made history in 2010 and defeated the then reigning champions. The Azkals finally hit their stride in the tournament after skipper Chieffy Caligdong, coming up as a second half substitute, slotted home the winner in the 2010 rematch against Vietnam to put the Philippines on the brink of the semifinals.
They reached the feat after defeating, for the first time, an old foe in Myanmar. Phil Younghusband and Angel Guirado scored in sensational fashion in the second half to confirm the semifinal slot for the Philippines.
Singapore began its AFF Suzuki Cup campaign, giving host Malaysia a beating as the Lions ran riot at the Bukit Jalil Stadium in a 3-0 victory to set the tone for their campaign.
They were however beaten by Indonesia 1-0 after several spotty officiating from the match officials, but regained their tempo, beating Laos 4-3 after falling behind 1-2 in the first half.
The Philippines has defeated the Lions twice in the past in two international friendlies.
Singapore will be looking for both captain Shahril Ishak and the ageless striker Aleksandar Duric to lead the Lions again as they look to end their 2012 hoodoo against the Philippines, losing 2-0 in Singapore last September and 1-0 last month.
However, they will miss two players in Shi Jiayi, who had a family matter to attend to, and Hariss Harun, who has been ruled out for several months with an injury to his right leg.
For the Philippines, they gained a huge lift as both midfielder Angel Guirado and defender Dennis Cagara have flown back to Manila just in time for the match.
Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic maintained that despite losing twice against the Azkals, Saturday’s match will be different.
“Singapore was not complete then, Philippines as well. This is going to be a different match,” said the Serbian national.
Meanwhile his counterpart in the press conference, team manager Dan Stephen Palami noted that his side won’t be complacent, adding that the match will be a historic one.
“We intend to write our own history. It’s important for the growth of Philippine football that we are going to play our home game here,” said Palami.
The game kicks off at 8 pm, the first leg of a home and away format semifinals. The second leg will be held in Singapore on December 12.- Rappler.com