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(Philippine Sports Stadium, Bocaue)
4:30 p.m. – Indonesia vs Thailand
8 p.m. – Philippines vs Singapore
The Philippine Azkals will treat the start of their title bid with caution as they play Singapore in the opener of the AFF Suzuki Cup tonight at the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bocaue, Bulacan.
Coach Thomas Dooley’s side has been picked as one of the two teams that will qualify in Group A of Southeast Asia’s biggest football competition, even without the services of striker Javier Patino and defender Daisuke Sato because of club commitments overseas.
Sans Patino and Sato, Dooley urged his players to step up their game a notch higher in the 8 p.m. match against the Singaporeans.
“Obviously they’re important players and they will be missed. But we have other players who can step up and do the job so I’m not that concern at all,” Dooley said during yesterday’s pre-match press conference at the Marco Polo Hotel in Ortigas.
The Azkals, playing on home soil for the first time in the group stage, have enough players to fill the gap, particularly veteran Phil Younghusband, first-time Suzuki Cup mainstay Stephan Schrock, fellow midfielder Manny Ott and homegrown defender Amani Aguinaldo.
But the Azkals won’t be having midfielder Martin Steuble for tonight’s contest as he will serve a one-game suspension for committing a red card in the second leg of the 2014 semifinal loss to reigning champion Thailand in Bangkok.
Dooley is also not taking Singapore lightly despite the Lions’ poor form heading into the competition. Singapore is coached by V. Sundramoorthy, who pundits back in the Lion City say is a more defensive-minded mentor.
Sundramoorthy laughed off suggestions that he will do a “Park the Bus” strategy, a football term used when a team opts to play defense the whole game.
“Whether we will park the bus, we will see,” he said.
Thailand, which plays Indonesia in the first match at 4:30 p.m., is groomed as the favorite to top the group, owing to its impressive form and its motivation to win it in honor of the late King Bhumibol.
“Everybody wants to beat us, but we are determined to be champions again and get the trophy for our King,” said Thailand coach Kiatisuk Senamuang.