AFC Asian Cup: Azkals take on Yemen minus key players
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines tries to remain perfect in AFC Asian Cup qualifying when they play Yemen in Bacolod City's Panaad Stadium on Tuesday, September 5.
The Azkals are atop Group F with 6 points from wins over Nepal and Tajikistan. Yemen, which beat the Philippines in World Cup qualifying in Manila in 2015, defeated Tajikistan and drew at Nepal, so they are on 4 points. The best two teams from this four-nation double round-robin group proceed to the final stage of the AFC Asian Cup in UAE in 2019.
The Azkals then play Yemen in Qatar in October before traveling to Kathmandu to collide with Nepal in November. Hopefully by the time we host Tajikistan in Bacolod for our last game in March, we will have had secured qualification.
The team has numerous challenges coming into this match, especially on the personnel side.
WHO'S OUT: There is no shortage of big names who will not be suiting up for a variety of reasons.
Javier Patiño is out with a knee injury sustained in July while playing for his Chinese club side, Henan Jianye. That will be a massive loss for the team. Patiño, when healthy, is our most reliable striker.
Amani Aguinaldo is also suffering from an injured knee. Good chance he will not take part. Unfortunately, one of his possible replacements, Camelo Tacusalme, is likewise unavailable because of a hamstring pull.
Stephan Schrock has apparently retired from international football based on this post from his official Facebook page.
The Ceres Negros man was unlikely to be selected anyway since the relationship between him and coach Thomas Dooley appears to have soured again. Schrock, who turned 31 this month, will continue playing for Negros in the PFL.
No Martin Steuble either, it seems. He has lost favor with Dooley as well and will likely be left off the squad as he was versus Tajikistan and China.
Steuble would have been an option for left back. We will need one since Daisuke Sato is not coming. The Fil-Japanese is in great health playing for his new club in Denmark, but two accumulated yellows in this campaign mean he won't be allowed to play.
Another left back, Jeff Christiaens, also of Ceres, has also retired from international football at the age of 26, according to Dooley. The Fil-Belgian is a father of two and wants to focus on his family.
No Roland Müller either. The goalie has also retired from international football.
Kaya Makati striker Kenshiro Daniels is also injured and will likely not participate, according to the coach.
WHO'S IN: There is no reason to panic yet because many of the Azkals who we know and love will take the field.
Phil Younghusband, with three goals in the first two games, is in the roster alongside brother James. The duo has been in Malaysia with their new club Davao Aguilas on a training camp. Iain Ramsay will be in the saddle as well.
Misagh Bahadoran will be on the team, and not as goalkeeper, the position he played for Global in a recent 5-2 loss against JPV Marikina.
Neil Etheridge, on fire for his English Championship club Cardiff, is planing in, with Pat Deyto and Nick O'Donnell backing him up in goal. Dooley says Etheridge is the probable starter.
Both Manny and Mike Ott are available. The younger Ott, Mike, has been plying his trade in Thailand.
Fans of Simone Rota will be glad to see him slip on an Azkals shirt once again. The Fil-Italian is now with Davao and could be an option at centerback for Dooley.
Another player coming back from a long absence is Patrick Reichelt of Ceres. Dooley says the right-sided attacker probably won't start but he wants to see him in training to check his fitness. Dooley says Rota is in the same boat.
Stephan Palla is making a long-awaited return to the Philippine team. The Fil-Austrian has been away with knee and back issues that kept him off the field for much of 2016. Palla has been playing often for Wolfsberger in the Austrian league and it is highly possible he starts at left back with Sato, Christiaens, and Steuble all not around.
Two players from the SEA Games U22 side have been summoned to Bacolod. Dylan De Bruycker can cause lots of problems out wide while Josh Grommen was solid in central defense in Malaysia. Grommen has been asked to train with the Azkals in the past but it looks like this is his first full call-up.
Another new face will be Meralco's Tyler Matas, a Filipino-American wide player who has played every single minute for the Sparks in their PFL campaign this year, all 18 matches. Matas also supplies something the national team hasn't had since the days of Jason Sabio and Anton Del Rosario: a long throw-in. Manila has scored two goals this season directly off his tosses this season.
Filipino-German Harry Föll is also making the trip. The 19-year old midfielder from Hansa Rostock in the third division of German football. Dooley describes Föll as being a tall winger with good size but also very quick.
“We'll see if he can bring something to the team,” says the coach.
Kevin Ingreso, Dennis Villanueva, Hikaru Minegishi, and Luke Woodland are also expected to line up. They will train in Bacolod all week leading up to the game. Dooley says he has also called up Paul Mulders. The Global Cebu veteran will be the oldest player there at 36.
THE OPPONENT: Dooley comes straight to the point when he assesses our chances for victory.
“With our current circumstances I think we are the underdogs,” he says.
According to Dooley he has studied the side and appreciates the technical ability of Alaa al-Sasi and Ayman Al-Hagri. He has also described their central defender, Mohammed Fuad Mohammed Omar, as a “giant.”
Dooley believes that Yemen has improved since its shocking 1-0 win over the Philippines in Rizal Memorial in November of 2015. Yemen is 19 spots behind us in the current FIFA rankings, at 146 to our 127.
The coach thinks that Yemen struggled with the altitude in Nepal hence the 0-0 result. According to Dooley the team from the war-torn Gulf nation dominated that match.
Hopefully the visitors also struggle in the heat of Bacolod. The Azkals return to Panaad after an almost 4-year absence. Their last match there was a 3-1 win over Pakistan in the Peace Cup in October of 2013. Tickets for this game are already on sale, ranging from P50 to P500. Details are here.
Broadcast and/or streaming details have yet to be finalized but an announcement will hopefully come soon.
It will likely be a tough match but the coach thinks fitness will, as always, be key.
“As long as we are 100% fit, we can win. If we're not fit, we don't have a chance.” – Rappler.com
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.