MANILA, Philippines – After snatching a last-minute win over Mongolia last Saturday, June 11, the Philippine Azkals now hold their own fate in qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup 2023 as they battle Palestine on Tuesday at the MFF Stadium in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
World No. 133 Azkals have 4 points and a +1 goal difference after two matches, while 100th-ranked Palestine holds the top spot in Group B with 6 points and a +6 goal difference.
“I am pleased with everything we’ve had so far. We are in the game that everybody dreams of, you don’t want to play just the friendly games, you want to play games where it counts and this is one of the teams that counts,” said Philippines head coach Thomas Dooley.
“We have to give everything, we have to be lucky a little bit and we have to trust in each other and I think that’s what we do.”
A victory for the Azkals will catapult them to the top of Group B and secure them a slot in next year’s Asian Cup.
Producing another draw will keep the Azkals in second place with 5 points, but they will have to rely on the other group runners-up to advance in the 18th edition of the quadrennial tournament.
Absorbing a first loss in the qualifiers will make things more complicated for the Azkals as they will be stuck with 4 points and give Yemen a chance to overtake them in Group B.
Despite admitting that Palestine is a much stronger side, Dooley said that he had absolute faith in his squad.
“I am confident with the players. The team that we have, they are all very energetic and they are in a good mood, they want to win, they want to take that fight on and we want to play football too, but we have to be careful in a way how we’re gonna handle this team,” Dooley said.
Dooley added that he gives the players the belief by telling them what they have achieved in the last two games and what they can do if they work together.
“We go in with our head high and we know what we have done in that short time. We have it in our hands, we just have to fight like crazy to get this victory.”
He also asked for the players to focus as they take on Palestine with a slot in the Asian Cup at stake once again.
“You need to be aware of every situation of the game and it’s only 90 minutes. I’m telling them sometimes only 45 minutes. You’ll need to concentrate for only 45 minutes. In those 45 minutes, do whatever you can, whatever you have, whatever you’re capable of into those 45 minutes. If you can’t do it anymore, we sub.”
Palestine defeated the Azkals in the final of the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup to claim a ticket in the 2015 Asian Cup, but the latest edition of the squad – a mixture of veteran players and youngsters – has the golden opportunity to finally eradicate the ghosts of the past and carve out a new piece of history. – Rappler.com