Azkals vow ‘to protect Rizal’ vs Nepal

By Cedelf P. Tupas

Boosted by the arrival of experienced defender Rob Gier, the Philippine Azkals will be out to protect their homefield when they take on Nepal tomorrow in a Fifa-sanctioned international friendly at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

“We’ve worked so hard to finally get this chance (of playing at home), so we’ll do our best to protect Rizal,” said co-skipper Chieffy Caligdong, who has scored four of the Azkals’ last five goals in their past four matches.

The 29-year-old left winger recalled that last year, the Azkals were forced to play a “home” match in Indonesia because no venue was ready when the team went on a historic run to the Suzuki Cup semifinals.

“For us, it’s just a rare chance of playing at home that’s most important,” said Caligdong in Filipino.

Fil-Danish standouts Dennis Cagara and Jerry Lucena are also primed for their home debut.

Cagara and Lucena missed the World Cup Qualifiers because of club commitments and are raring to produce a quality performance for the home fans.

“It’s always special playing at home,” said Cagara, who, at 26, is already a veteran in European leagues, having played in top-flight tournaments in Germany.

“Most of our teammates (in the Azkals) have shared their stories of how good the feeling is playing in Rizal,” added Cagara.

The match, set at 7 p.m., will mark the first time in 14 years that the Philippines will be hosting an international team for a friendly.

And with their last home match ending in a 1-3 loss to Kuwait last July, the Azkals are expected to go full throttle against the Nepalese.

“We can’t just allow Nepal to come over here and dominate us,” said team manager Dan Palami. “We are not the favored team, so we’re hopeful that we would get all the support at Rizal.”

Gier, who also serves as consultant and scout for the team, is expected to make his return at central defense after missing the Long Teng Cup and the 0-2 loss against Singapore last Friday.

Fil-Dutch player Paul Mulders said the match against Nepal will give him the opportunity to make up for what he felt was a so-so performance against Singapore.

“I wasn’t happy with my performance—I thought I played like a girl,” said Mulders. Published in Inquirer Sports