Azkals vs Malaysia: A tough test for both squads

Mia Domingo
The Azkals will face the Malaysian national team for a FIFA-sanctioned friendly.

TOUGH MATCH. The Azkals will face the Malaysian national football team tomorrow in a FIFA-sanctioned friendly on Wednesday, February 29. February 28, 2012. Mia Domingo.

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine men’s football team will face the Malaysian national team in a FIFA-sanctioned football friendly that will affect world rankings of both squads.

In a press conference held at the Discovery Suites, Ortigas on Tuesday, February 28, the Philippine Football Federation announced the friendly match between the Azkals and Malaysia Tigers set to take place on Wednesday, February 29 at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.

Goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, defender Jason Sabio and forward Phil Younghusband were in attendance alongside Philippine Azkals German head coach Michael Weiss. Malaysia’s head coach Datu K. Rajagopal also attended the forum with assistant coach Lee Tae Ho.

“First of all, we want to thank everyone for the opportunity to play here,” said Rajagopal. “When we were given this chance, we grabbed it easily. We’re excited to play here.”

“We’re happy to come here and of course we’re looking forward for tomorrow’s game Its the best time for us to see the players,” added Ho.

The Malaysia Tigers – the reigning Suzuki Cup champions and South East Asian Games champions – will test the waters against the Azkals who is aiming to strengthen their lineup in preparation for the AFC Challenge Cup next month.

“Its going to be a massive match tomorrow. We’ll be able to see our development in the last 14, 15 or 16 months,” said Weiss. “We’ll get a glimpse of how we’ll stand against tougher Asian teams.”

Azkals unite

Several players flew to the Philippines to participate in the friendly, including midfielder Jason de Jong, defender Rob Gier and Etheridge.

“We’re not looking for anything else but a win. And, it wasn’t that hard to adjust with the new members of the team because we easily gelled with each other during practices,” said Etheridge.

Sabio added, “I’ve never played Malaysia but hopefully we’ll be able to make good strides. It will be a great preparation for us for the (AFC) Challenge Cup.”

Weiss said he expects improvements in his team’s defense, which the Azkals have struggled with recently.

“We have been watching the tapes from last year. This will be a strong test for us. We’ll see the positive changes, most especially with our defense because we concentrated on that in Dubai.”

Etheridge’s return is also expected to contribute greatly to deflecting goals. His last match with the Azkals in the Philippines was in July 2011 for the 2nd round, 2nd leg of the World Cup Qualifiers versus Kuwait.

Malaysia ready

Malaysia’s coach is impressed with how much the Azkals have improved in recent years.

“When we viewed the tapes of the Azkals, we were surprised because they played well. They’re now tougher. Before, nobody gave the Philippines a second look or chance but now they’ve changed that,” said Rajagopal.

“I respect them. My team also respects them but they should not fear the Azkals. I just want my players to go out there tomorrow and play an entertaining match.”

The Azkals has been through a pleasant up and down ride that saw players come and go but Younghusband still believes that the national team can withstand the changes and make a break through in the Challenge Cup next month.

Rajagopal also noted that he doesn’t have a definite approach yet for tomorrow’s game, but he is confident that the strength and weaknesses of his players will allow him to adjust to tomorrow’s game depending on the situation.

“Anyone is able to play their best. We both want to win the match and we just hope it’ll be a good game,” he said.

The Malaysia Tigers played a friendly match with a local team back home in preparation for their match-up with the Philippine Azkals. –

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