Azkals face Azerbaijan, first European squad in 17 years, on Wednesday
MANILA, Philippines – Just four days after the Philippine National Men’s Football Team’s scoreless draw with Malaysia, coach Thomas Dooley and the rest of the Azkals crew will return to the pitch in another FIFA Friendly Match against 93rd-ranked Azerbaijan on Wednesday, March 5 at the Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Dooley’s first outing with the Philippines, despite ending up in a nil-nil deadlock, raised the morale inside the Azkals camp. Call it a fluke or just plain luck, holding a full-strength Hari Mau side scoreless for the whole 90 minutes even after an almost four-month hiatus is not an easy task for any side in the Southeast Asian region.
Hoping to ride their momentum from Selayang all the way to the Middle East, the Azkals will be trying to measure where they are in the world stage against UEFA nation Azerbaijjan. Sitting more than 30 places on top of the Philippines in the FIFA rankings, the Milli are definitely on a whole new level compared to the Malaysians.
Good thing for the Philippines, the Azkals will be at almost full-strength when they test their mettle against Azerbaijan. Javier Patino, after making waves in Thailand with his explosive scoring, will be wearing the Philippine jersey again. Roland Muller will also return into the fold and is expected to man the front of the goal for the Azkals. And of course, Stephan Schrock will once again put on a dazzling display either in the midfield or in defense.
The big question coming into this game is the Philippines’ defense. Last Saturday, the woodwork saved the day for the Azkals twice, with the Malaysians coming close to scoring many times (not to mention the disallowed goal in the first half). But against a squad like Azerbaijan – who are no strangers playing the big boys of Europe – the Azkals can’t afford to repeat the lackluster defending they showed against our neighbors.
The Azkals do have hardnosed central defenders in Rob Gier and Juani Guirado but they are nearing the twilight of their footballing careers – and it showed against Malaysia. Jerry Lucena, despite seeing regular action in Denmark is also starting to age. Youngster Amani Aguinaldo is showing promise locally but many believe he is not yet ripe for a cap especially against such a strong side. Possible backups are Simone Rota, who had a good debut on weekend, and Anton del Rosario who has been part of the Philippine side that pulled off the Miracle in Hanoi that changed the landscape of football in the country.
The midfield will undoubtedly be anchored on Eintracht Frankfurt’s Schrock. There will be no shortage of support for him with Chris Greatwich, Martin Steuble, Jeffrey Christiaens, Jason de Jong, OJ Porteria, Mark Hartmann, Misagh Bahadoran, Kenshiro Daniels and Patrick Reichelt, all in the lineup for Wednesday.
The Younghusband brothers, however, won’t be at 100 percent after they incurred injuries in the United Football League but Patino, and maybe Ruben Doctora as a substitute, will do just fine up front.
If we have Schrock who plays in the Bundesliga, the top-flight of German football, the Azerbaijanis also have a couple of high-caliber cogs in their squad. Defender Ruslan Abishov, who plays for Russian powerhouse Rubin Kazan, will definitely give the Azkals forwards a tough time come matchday. Aside from being a pesky defender, he is also a scoring threat in set pieces, scoring four international goals in 38 appearances since 2009.
Another foreign-based Azerbaijani footballer is Kaiserslautern II’s 22-year-old Rufat Dadashov who has already found the back of the net for his national side four times in just 10 outings.
But what makes this squad daunting is the quality of its local stars. Inter Baku striker Vagif Javadov is currently the leading top scorer for Azerbaijan among its active players with nine goals. Elvin Mammadov, Rauf Aliyev, and Branimir Subasic are also men to be wary of for the Azkals defense as each of them have already scored seven international goals for their country.
Who will end its skid?
The Berti Vogts-mentored Azerbaijan side is currently on a three-game winless skid. They only won three of their 12 matches in 2013. But don’t let their record fool you, as they have faced some of the best European sides including Portugal, whom they lost against 0-2, and Russia, whom they held to a 1-1 draw. Going up against an Asian squad for the first time since May of last year, expect this hungry Azerbaijani side to pour in all their frustration against the Philippines.
The Philippines, on the other hand, after a successful title defense of the Peace Cup in October, only had three outings, drawing India (1-1) and Malaysia (0-0) while absorbing a 0-4 whopping from UAE.
Despite this being Dooley’s only second match with the Philippines, Azerbaijan will definitely be a good gauge on how far the former whipping boys of the region have come and will preview our chances in the all-important AFC Challenge Cup in May. - Rappler.com