By JONAS TERRADO
(Rizal Memorial Stadium)
7:30 p.m. – Philippines vs Tajikistan
The Philippine Azkals refuse to buy the notion of having to deal with a huge amount of pressure in needing to get a positive result tonight when they seek a historic berth in the 2019 Asian Cup against Tajikistan in the final match day of the Group F qualifiers at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
A draw in the 7:30 p.m. match would be enough for the Azkals to earn the country’s first appearance in Asia’s biggest football competition but coach Thomas Dooley and team captain Phil Younghusband would rather gain the maximum three points in front of the home fans.
“It will be very a difficult game, it’s not an easy game,” Dooley said during the pre-match press conference at the Century Park Hotel. “We know that’s strong team. They’re fast, they’re good technically, they fight and they showed that in the second half (of their first encounter in Dushanbe).
“So we have to be prepared, we have to be 100 percent focused and our focus is to win the game,” added Dooley, whose team posted a 4-3 win in their first Group F meeting last year. “If it comes out a tie, it’s okay but we’ll try to play our own game.”
Goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, who is trying to help Cardiff City secure promotion to next year’s English Premier League, is back behind the sticks for the Azkals while Younghusband, brothers Mike and Manny Ott, Misagh Bahadoran, Kevin Ingreso, Iain Ramsay, Pika Minegishi and Daisuke Sato will be among the players expected to have big roles.
Anything less than a tie could elude the Azkals of the Asian Cup for the second straight time, having gone this close in almost a similar manner in 2014 when they lost to Palestine in the final of the AFC Challenge Cup in Maldives.
The Azkals hold the top spot in Group F with nine points, two clear of Yemen and Tajikistan. The top two teams after tonight’s qualifiers will play in the Asian Cup which will be hosted by the United Arab Emirates.
Yemen also eyes a victory tonight against Nepal in the other Group F match in Doha, Qatar.