By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
Senior Reporter

WINNER in its last game in the second round of the FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifiers, the Philippine men’s national football team looks to make it back-to-back wins when it takes on Group A leader Syria today in an away group match in Dubai.

Defeated Maldives, 2-1, in Male on Nov. 14, the Philippine Azkals (2-1-1), joint second with China (2-1-1) in Group A with seven points each, shoot for another victory to further pad their push in the continental qualifiers for the World Cup, which also serves as a qualifying step for the AFC Asian Cup.

The Philippines defeated Maldives in the latter’s home turf with goals from Iain Ramsay and John-Patrick Strauss.

After a tight first half that saw the teams deadlocked at nil-nil, the Azkals picked up the scoring early in the second fold, with Mr. Ramsay getting the first goal in the 52nd minute.

They continued to put pressure on the home team after, rewarded with another goal care of Mr. Strauss in the 68th minute.

Maldives desperately tried to make a comeback but could only get one point back on a goal from Naiz Hassan late in the match, handing the Azkals the win.

For Mr. Ramsay, the win bodes well as it shows the whole team coming along with a common push to help the Philippines’ cause.

”The whole squad has been positive. We have got a good group growing together, and we have some momentum going into the Syria match,” Mr. Ramsay was quoted as saying by the official Asian Football Confederation Web site.

“[Our coach] has got the team tactically right and we are working hard for each other, we are a tight-knit group,” added Mr. Ramsay, referring to coach Scott Cooper.

Apart from Messrs. Ramsay and Strauss, also part of the Azkals pool of player for this stretch of the qualifiers are goalkeepers Patrick Deyto, Neil Etheridge and Michael Falkesgaard, defenders Amani Aguinaldo, Carli De Murga, Patrick Kane, Daisuke Sato, Alvaro Silva, Martin Steuble and Luke Woodland.

Also part of the team are midfielders Angel Guirado, Mike Ott, Stephan Schrock, Curt Dizon, Mark Hartmann, OJ Porteria and Patrick Reichelt.

Included as well are Under-22 players Marco Casambre, Justin Baas, Edison Suerti and Yrick Gallantes.

Out to stop the Azkals today at the Rashid Stadium in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is undefeated Group A leader Syria (4-0-0).

It is coming off a 2-1 victory over China also on Nov. 14.

Against the Philippines in an earlier match in the group on Sept. 5, the Syrians were solid to run away with a 5-2 victory.

In the second round of qualification, the Azkals are hoping 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.