Asian football

Philippine Azkals brace for pivotal clash against Thailand

Juro Morilla
Philippine Azkals brace for pivotal clash against Thailand

DEFENSE. Amani Aguinaldo aids in strengthening the Azkals defense to keep the pristine scoreline.

Philippine Football Federation

The race for the top two spots in Group A heats up as the Philippine men’s football team takes on group leader Thailand next

MANILA, Philippines –After splitting their first two assignments, the Philippine Azkals target key wins in their last two games in Group A of the AFF Suzuki Cup in Singapore.

The national men’s football team takes on the favored Thailand on Tuesday, December 14, before closing out its group campaign against Myanmar on Saturday, December 18. 

Only the top two teams in each group will advance to the semifinal stage of the tournament.

“We’re going into the game hopefully with everybody fit and everybody available so we can pick our strongest team,” said Azkals coach Stewart Hall “Everybody’s confidence is high after that win [against Timor Leste].” 

In their opening match, the Azkals absorbed a narrow loss to Singapore, 2-1, after they conceded two quick goals in the second half – a stunning stretch which Hall described as “crazy, silly three minutes.”

The Azkals, though, bounced back in their second game as they crushed Timor Leste in a 7-0 shutout that saw seven different scorers on the scoresheet.

“Credit to the players, fantastic. The players did it. We started fast, we started strong, we pressed them really well high up which is the plan,” said Hall. 

“We won the ball, we moved it quickly, we crossed it into dangerous areas. We played two strikers because we needed to win and we needed goals and we got the result.”

The dominant win was a morale booster for the Azkals as they take on red-hot Thailand, which recently overtook Singapore for the top spot in Group A via goal difference after they dominated Myanmar with a 4-0 victory.

Thailand now has 6 points with a +5 goal difference, while Singapore has the same number of points, but only with a +4 goal difference. 

Still, Hall remains optimistic that the Philippines has a shot against Thailand.

“Thailand game will be a different game, we know that,” he said. “They’ve got their best players here, it will be very competitive and it will be a hard game, but we’re ready.”

Two players who might be in the starting lineup next match are striker Angel Guirado and center back Jesper Nyholm. 

Guirado is an Azkal veteran who didn’t start in the first game against Singapore, but started in the thrashing of Timor Leste. 

“He’s a big asset, but you have to play the right sort of game to get the best out of him,” said Hall.

Nyholm, on the other hand, celebrated his Azkals debut with a towering header in the 45th minute, the fifth goal they scored against Timor Leste. He replaced youngster Justin Baas in the heart of the defense and played extremely well. 

Hall explained his rotation at the back: “We wanted everybody to be ready for the Thailand game ‘cause we know it was going to be a big game. So we thought it important that Jesper got some football tonight.”

He said there was no issue with Baas as it was just necessary to give the 28-year-old Filipino-Swedish Nyholm some minutes. 

“I’ve got four center backs to choose from now against Thailand, they’re all ready to go. So we’re really pleased,” said Hall.

The Azkals, who currently sit at third with 3 points and a +6 goal difference, will play their penultimate group stage match against Thailand at  5:30 pm on December 14 at the National Stadium in Kallang, Singapore. – Rappler.com