Maldives preview: Azkals face important tuneup before Uzbekistan

Bob Guerrero
Maldives preview: Azkals face important tuneup before Uzbekistan
The Philippines faces Maldives in a friendly on Thursday which will serve as an appetizer for the World Cup qualifier next week versus Uzbekistan

Philippines vs Maldives

FIFA International Friendly

Thursday, September 3

8 pm kickoff

Live coverage starting at 7:30 pm on ABS-CBN Sports+Action

Tickets available for as low as P125 at all Ticketworld outlets.

MANILA, Philippines – For the visitors, it’s payback time. For the home side, a chance to gel before a big test.

The Azkals host Maldives on Thursday, September 3, a year after the Philippines defeated the Red Snappers 3-2 in extra time in the semifinal of the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup in Malé, the Maldivian capital. For sure the South Asians want to turn the tables on the Philippines in our home pitch.

Thomas Dooley’s team will be using the game as preparation for the massive World Cup qualifier against Uzbekistan on September 8. The Philippines are second in their group after beating Bahrain 2-1 and Yemen 2-0 in June. 

Several players who are likely to play against the Central Asians will miss the Maldives match. According to team manager Dan Palami, Stephan Schrock will be at the game but will not likely be fielded. He is still en-route to the Philippines as of the writing of this article. The dynamic winger seems to be past the knee injury he sustained in the home match against Bahrain in June. Palami says he recently played a full ninety minutes for his club side, Greuther Fürth, in Germany. 

Paul Mulders was at Tuesday’s training but did not work out. Mulders said he has been ill lately and was under the weather when his club team, Ceres, lost the UFL Final last Friday in a penalty shootout to Kaya. Mulders had a spot kicked saved in the shootout. The Filipino-Dutchman says he is trying to get fit for the Uzbekistan game. It is not clear if he will be well enough for Maldives.

(READ: UFL Cup Final: Kaya accomplishes an upset for the ages)

Palami also intimated that the Kaya players (OJ Porteria and Kenshiro Daniels,) as well as the Ceres standouts, (Mulders, Martin Steuble, Patrick Reichelt, and Juani Guirado,) were still “heavy legged” after the epic 120 minutes of play and shootout last Friday. Manny Ott was suspended for that match so it can be assumed he is more rested. Palami said he thinks the boys who played in the UFL final should be sharp in time for the matches.

Stephane Palla may also not participate in the Maldives game and was not in training. It can be assumed that he is not in the country yet. Striker Javier Patiño is also following for the Uzbekistan match from his club side in China. Luke Woodland, the Filipino-English defender/midfielder, is in New York trialling with MLS outfit Red Bull New York and is reportedly scheduled to report for duty on Sunday. 

Roland Muller (L) and Phil Younghusband (R) at Azkals practice. Photo by Bob Guerrero/Rappler

With Simone Rota out for a few months thanks to a rib injury sustained in the UFL Cup semifinals, the Azkals are a bit thin in the back. Rob Gier was at Tuesday practice but did not train. Instead he and Mulders took a leisurely walk around the track. Gier has a torn meniscus and is scheduled to undergo surgery here in Manila on Wednesday. The veteran hopes he can make it back in time for the October road trip to North Korea and Bahrain, but he admits that that is the “best-case scenario.” 

Juani Guirado seems to be a favorite to start in the middle of Dooley’s 3-man back line against the Maldivians, with Daisuke Sato to his left and Jerry Lucena to his right. Amani Aguinaldo could also be an option. The Davaoeño played in the semifinal win against this opponent in the Challenge Cup last year. 

Apart from Aguinaldo, there are two other Mindanao-bred players in the squad. Paolo Bugas, from the FEU Tamaraws and Global, was a late addition to the team along with OJ Porteria. Bugas scored two goals in the small-sided scrimmage at the end of training.

Jun Badelic, from Bukidnon, is one of the 4 keepers that Dooley has at his disposal. Goalies Neil Etheridge, Roland Muller, and Patrick Deyto all trained on Tuesday under the watchful eye of Australian goalkeeping legend Jim Fraser, who was the coach of the Philippines U22 team in Olympic qualifying earlier in the year. The 67-year old Fraser runs a goalkeeping school in his homeland and is renowned as the goalie who helped Australia qualify for the World Cup in 1974. 

Badelic played under Fraser in the AFC tournament, started most of the games in the SEA Games, and also kept two clean sheets for Global against Pahang in the AFC Cup group stage. 

Palami says the match on Thursday may not be a FIFA “A” friendly, meaning it may not count for world rankings points. He confessed that he prefers that it not be an “A” international so that they can field more than six substitutes in the game, the maximum to get the “A” rating. However he did say that it was up for discussion with the Maldivian delegation. Maldives are ranked lower than the Philippines and would get a bump in the rankings if they picked up a result on Thursday.

The Maldives are also using the game as a tuneup. They too have a World Cup qualifier on the 8th, against China in Shenyang. The South Asians are off to an 0-2 start in qualifying. They began with a 2-0 loss at Hong Kong in June then five days later held Qatar at home at 0-0 until the 98th minute. Unfortunately for them the referee decided to play a 99th minute and the Qataris scored in it, off a cruel deflection off defender Akram Abdul Ghani, for a 1-0 final score. 

The two setbacks led to the departure of Bulgarian coach Velizar Popov. Assistant Ismail Mehfooz is in charge, but on an interim basis. 

Maldives will be led by their talisman Ali Ashfaq, who plays in Malaysia for PDRM. Ashfaq is known for his blistering pace and nose for goal. The 29-year old has 41 goals in 101 international appearances for his country. Another key player is midfielder Mohamed Umair. 

It is hard to say how the game will unfold. Maldives certainly want revenge and momentum heading to China, but both they and their opponents will certainly be looking forward to the matches on the eighth. 

Dooley will likely stick to his unorthodox 3-man-backline but Phil Younghusband may be pushed forward in the absence of Javier Patiño. 

Possible starting eleven formation (3-4-3) 

Ramsay Younghusband Reichelt

Bahadoran Ingreso Ott Steuble

Sato Guirado Lucena


OTHER NOTES: Dan Palami says the Philippines will probably play a home friendly in Manila against Vietnam on October 3. It will be part of the buildup for the qualifiers against Korea DPR and Bahrain in the days after that. Palami says the game has been agreed on in principle and that only paperwork is needed to make it a sure thing. Vietnam were reportedly supposed to play the Azkals on Thursday but that did not push through, allowing the Maldives encounter to happen….. Iain Ramsay looked sharp in training. The left-sided Filipino-Australian attacker has been playing for his new club Tractor Sazi in Iran. Ramsay says Iranian footballers are not quite as fit as their Australian counterparts but he feels they are technically excellent. Tractor Sazi is currently in the AFC Champions League…. Etheridge is thriving at Walsall, his new club in League 1, the third tier of the English football pyramid. Walsall are atop the league with four wins, one draw, and no losses after five matches. But the team are also making waves in the Capital One Cup (League Cup), the knockout competition for all professional teams in England that is only exceeded in prestige by the hallowed English FA Cup. After dismissing Nottingham Forest 4-3 in the first round the Saddlers then eliminated Brighton Hove and Albion, (one of Chris Greatwichs’s old clubs), 2-1 to set up a David versus Goliath third-round clash with last year’s League Cup and Premier League champs, Chelsea. On September 23 the Blues travel to Bescot Stadium to play Walsall, and Etheridge, a former Chelsea youth shot-stopper, will have to deal with the likes of Diego Costa, Eden Hazard, and new signing Pedro. If Walsall can somehow shock Chelsea then they reach the last sixteen of the competition….. Daisuke Sato has a plastic protective covering over his right arm, which was broken but is swiftly healing. He even low-fived one of the football reporters with it on the way to the pitch on Tuesday. –


Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.