THE Azkals looks more than ready for the AFF Suzuki Cup which the Philippines will host for the first time at the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bocaue, Bulacan.
For Phil Younghusband, the longest tenured player among the current Azkals, the home crowd support will be the key for the team’s success.
“Hopefully we can get a lot of fans at the stadium. As the home team, we need to make sure that you will use that as an advantage, having more people at the stadium,” said Younghusband.
A shorthanded Philippines side hopes to make an immediate impact against dangerous Singapore in the featured match at 8 p.m.
Thailand, still grieving with the sudden passing of its beloved king last month, opens its title-retention bid against Indonesia in the curtain raiser at 4:30 p.m.
Azkals coach Thomas Dooley is upbeat on his team’s chances of making it to the semifinals in the region’s biggest football competition for the fourth straight season.
“The level of confidence is high. I like the way the players responded in the last couple of weeks especially after two losses. We have a positive attitude in our team right now,” said Dooley.
“We’re very excited for this big tournament. We hopefully have two or three nice weeks ahead,” he added.
Already without goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, the Philippines will be without ace striker Javier Patiño and defensive sentinel Daisuke Sato due to their respective club commitments abroad.
To add to their woes, the Azkals will also miss Martin Stueble, who will serve one-game suspension for his red card against the Thais in the semifinals second leg in 2014.
Despite all the adversities, the Philippines, the highest ranked footballing Southeast Asian nation at No. 124, is going for broke in its tough bracket.
“If we can make it to the semifinals or Finals, it is a good step for us,”said Dooley.
The Singaporeans, who ruled the 2012 edition, are not belittling the Azkals as they are determined to regain the throne.
“I feel that the boys are really focused,” said Singapore coach V. Sundramoorthy.
The Singaporeans, one the Azkals’ main threats in their bid for a fourth consecutive AFF Suzuki Cup semis appearance, may have been rated No. 171, but for Dooley, their match-up is what it matters right now.
“Singapore is a strong team,” said Dooley. “Rankings doesn’t mean anything. We will try to play our game.”
Definite, Thailand is a clear favorite, not only in this group stage, but to win it all in the tournament.
If their 2-2 draw against Asian champions Australia in the Fifa World Cup Asian qualifier third round match in Bangkok last Tuesday was a gauge, the Thais are looking good to top the AFF Suzuki Cup.