By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE Philippine men’s national football team resumes its second-round joint qualification bid for FIFA World Cup 2022 and Asian Cup 2023 today in a Group A match set at the Panaad Park and Football Stadium in Bacolod City.
Kicking off at 8 p.m., the Philippine Azkals, currently at third place in the five-team grouping with a 1-0-1 record and three points, look to deal leader China (2-0-0) its first defeat in the tournament while giving their push a boost.
In the second round of qualification, the Philippines hopes to finish on top of the grouping, or at a least have one of the best four runner-up records among the eight groups, to advance to the next round of the World Cup qualifiers.
To help their cause for the China match, the team has assembled a pool of 23 players, led by returning goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, who missed the first two games of the Azkals in the qualifiers because of injury.
Joining Mr. Etheridge in the pool are goalkeepers Michael Falkesgaard and Kevin Hansen, defenders Amani Aguinaldo, Mikel Baas, Carli De Murga, Niko De Vera, Daisuke Sato, Alvaro Silva, Martin Steuble, Edison Suerti and Luke Woodland.
Also part of the squad are midfielders Yrick Gallantes, Angel Guirado, Kevin Ingreso, Mike Ott, Iain Ramsay, Stephan Schrock and John-Patrick Strauss, and forwards Jovin Bedic, Mark Hartmma, OJ Porteria and Patrick Reichelt.
The team’s think tank is led by head coach Goran Milojevic, assisted by Hezirdan Ramadani and goalkeeping coach Milos Simic. Scott Joseph Cooper is the assistant team manager alongside team manager Dan Palami.
The Azkals won in their last game in the tournament, defeating Guam, 4-1, on Sept. 10, to bounce back from a loss to Syria, 5-2, previously.
Against Guam in Dededo the Philippines got the scoring early, care for Messrs. Guirado (7’) and Reichelt (12’) on their way to a 2-0 lead at the halfway point of the match.
In the second half though, Guam came out with more fire on its home field.
It would manage to cut its deficit into half, 2-1, in the 67th minute as it converted on a penalty kick from player Marcus Lopez.
But the Philippines nipped the rally in the bud, with Mr. Schrock handing the Azkals a two-point cushion anew in the 71st minute.
Mr. Strauss put the game away for the Philippines when he struck in the 82nd minute to make it a 4-1 count.
China, for its part, has been rock-solid with an unblemished record and has yet to concede a goal.
Its last victory came at the expense of Guam, 7-0, on Oct. 10.
Striker Xu Yang is leading the tournament in scoring with five so far and has been a force for the Chinese.
Also stepping up for China is Elkeson with three goals.
The Philippines-China match will be shown live over 5 Plus and livestream over the 5 Plus Facebook page, 5 Plus YouTube page, and on the Philippine Football Federation Website.