Azkals must score against Singapore to make finals

Icko de Guzman
The Philippine Azkals is on the verge of making history. A win will see the Philippines advance to the finals of the Suzuki Cup for the first time ever, while a loss will eliminate them from the semis for the second time in a row.

BEST CHANCE. Paul Mulders came very close to scoring the winning goal for the Azkals with this free kick. Photo by Franz Lopez

SINGAPORE – All roads lead to Jalan Besar Stadium in Singapore as the Philippine Azkals face the Singapore Lions in the second leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup semifinals, with the winner of the tie expected to face either defending champion Malaysia or 3-time champions Thailand in the finals of the competition.

If the Philippines emerges victorious, they will make history by reaching the finals for the first time ever.

This is the second time in a row that the Philippines made it to the semifinals. In 2010 however, the Philippines was eliminated by Indonesia after losing 1-0 in both legs of the semis.

The first leg, held in Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in Manila, had both sides coming close for the winner but had to settle for a scoreless draw despite a jampacked crowd in the Philippine capital.

A jampacked Singapore crowd looks to intimidate the Azkals squad after collecting the most out of the ticket sales, leaving Philippine fans with only 400 tickets.

But the players say they remain unfazed.

“We have 90 minutes, we will do all that we can,” said captain Emelio Caligdong in a mix of English and Filipino.

Stronger midfield?

The Philippines gained a boost after midfielder Jerry Lucena returned to the squad Monday afternoon, December 10.

Lucena played in the first two games of the Philippines in the group stages, before he was forced to return to his Danish squad.

Lucena missed the last game in the group stages against Myanmar and the first leg of the semis against Singapore, but will be available for Wednesday’s game. He is expected to strengthen the midfield, which head coach Michael Weiss cited as one of the team’s weak points in their draw against the Lions.

As for Singapore, they will be led again by the pairing of talismanic striker Aleksandar Duric and skipper Shahril Ishak.

Both players dominated with their play, only to be thwarted by the Philippine back four that is led by the central back pair of Rob Gier and Juani Guirado.

Goal needed

A loss for the Philippines will see them eliminated, and will allow Singapore to advance.

However should the match remain scoreless, extra time will be played with penalties looming, should both sides fail to score in the extra period.

Should the game end in a draw of at least a 1-1, the Philippines will advance to the finals because of the heavier weight given to away goals.

The Philippines has beaten Singapore twice this year in friendlies, the first 2-0 in September and recently 1-0, a week before the tournament.

But in the first leg of the semis, the Philippines looked disjointed on offense and were behind Singapore on ball posession and attempts on goal.

The Azkals are expected to take a more offensive approach on the second leg.-