Final stand at home for Philippine Azkals today: A miracle in Manila?

By Cedelf P. Tupas

A miracle in Manila.

That’s what the Philippine Azkals need to keep their World Cup dream alive tonight against a formidable Kuwait team looking to finish them off in their second round World Cup Qualifying match at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila.

The Azkals have a daunting task to overhaul the Kuwaiti’s 3-0 advantage, an edge the Al-Azraq earned with a dominant display in the first leg played in the punishing heat at the Mohammed Al-Hamad Stadium in Kuwait City Saturday night.

But the Azkals are brimming with confidence that they can steal one over an established Asian powerhouse in the Kuwaitis if only to prove that they had indeed come a long way since the time they were treated like punching bags even by teams in the Southeast Asian region.

“This match means a lot to us,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami. “But whatever happens, facing Kuwait has already cemented the development of the team considering that a few months ago we have not imagined playing against them.”
Azkals skipper Aly Borromeo promised a strong performance by the Azkals tonight.

“The team will be more confident and more cohesive tonight,” said Borromeo, who missed the first leg because of suspension.

Organizers said cancellation of the match because of inclement weather will be a gametime decision. If the match is indeed cancelled, the game will be played at the same time on Friday.

“The real storm will be in kickoff,” Borromeo said.

Despite playing at home and getting a boost with the return of Borromeo and Stephan Schrock, the Azkals, down three places to 162 in the latest International Football Federation (Fifa) rankings, remain the underdogs against the 95th-ranked Al-Azraq.

Azkals coach Michael Weiss intends to apply a more attacking approach, deviating from the more conservative style in the first leg.

“We are expecting a different match tomorrow,” said Weiss.

With the Azkals expected to attack, an open, free-wheeling game is in the offing as the Al-Azraq promised not to sit back and defend.

“I believe in my team and I will not change my strategy,” said Kuwait’s Serbian coach Goran Tufegdzic. “The Philippines is a very good team but Kuwait doesn’t play defensive football.”

The Azkals couldn’t control possession long enough in the first leg and were unlucky not to score on counterattacks with Phil Younghusband and Angel Guirado getting golden opportunities.

The second half saw Kuwait exploiting spaces on the left flank and put in an extra attacker to create more scoring chances, leading to two more goals.

“A lot of people are talking about getting an early goal but what’s important is also not conceding early. An early goal from them (Kuwait) will kill the game,” said defender Rob Gier. Published in Inquirer Sports