MANILA, Philippines – Bundesliga hotshot Gerrit Holtmann debuts for the Philippine men’s football team, but coach Thomas Dooley tempers expectations when the Azkals take on host Mongolia next in the AFC Asian Cup 2023 qualifiers.
The recently married Holtmann missed the Azkals’ first game against Yemen, which ended in a scoreless draw last Wednesday, but Dooley assured fans that the left-footed winger will see action in the pivotal Group B clash.
“[He] wants to play for us and even if he’s not a 100%, I want him to play and maybe he can decide how he feels, how long he wants to play,” said Dooley.
“It doesn’t make sense to join the team, and that caliber that he is, and not letting him play.”
The Philippines and Mongolia tangle at 12:30 pm on Saturday, June 11 at the MFF Stadium in Ulaanbaatar.
A victory over Mongolia will boost the chances of the Azkals and at the same time, they will have the opportunity to put their opponents on the brink of elimination.
Dooley said Holtmann, who plays for VfL Bochum, is very excited to be part of the qualifiers and help the team as much as he can. But the newly reappointed Azkals coach quickly downplayed high hopes.
“If anybody expects [that with Holtmann on board], we are fine, we’re scoring a lot of goals because he’s a Bundesliga player, that is wrong because he needs time like everybody else,” said Dooley.
“Players don’t know him, he doesn’t know the other players.”
“He just arrived after like a 14-15 hour flight and then the last training session that he had was maybe a couple days ago, weeks ago,” the 61-year-old mentor added.
“So he did something on his own, but you know, just the excitement that he wants to be with us and we would like to have him on our team, it’s amazing and this can only help.”
“But to expect from him that now we’re going to win games because he’s there is obviously too much. We have to be realistic,” said Dooley.
Coming off a draw against Yemen, which gave the Philippines a crucial point, the Philippines’ match versus world No. 186 Mongolia now becomes a must-win for the Azkals as they stand two points behind world No. 100 Palestine in the four-team group.
Only the top team in the group will earn a slot in next year’s Asian Cup, while the second-placed team will have to rely on the results of the other group runners-up to book a slot in the quadrennial tournament.
Mongolia lost to Palestine in its opener after Oday Dabbagh converted a penalty kick in the 85th minute to break the deadlock and send the Mongolians to the bottom of the group with 0 points and a -1 goal difference.
Despite the massive implications of the upcoming game, Dooley said he might only make minor changes in the lineup.
“Maybe we’ll change a little bit on one or two positions, but it’s not 100% clear,” he noted. “Like I said, I always do that the day before, on the day when we play so I don’t want to say now.” – Rappler.com