GOALKEEPER Neil Etheridge of the Philippine Azkals — PFF.ORG.PH

THE Philippine Azkals are in high spirits as they kick off their bid in the final round of the 2023 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup Qualifiers against Yemen on Wednesday in Mongolia.

The Filipino booters hit the field of the MFF Stadium in Ulaanbaatar at 12:30 p.m. with intense desire to get a winning start in Group B.

“Preparation is going well. We have good access to the field where we play. The weather is perfect football weather. There’s nothing to complain about the preparations,” Azkals coach Thomas Dooley said on the eve of the opener.

“The mood is good. Players are focused and know what a difficult challenge we are facing. That is very important and therefore very positive. It looks like we got something going in such a short time,” he added.

Mr. Dooley assembled a 24-man team led by veteran Neil Etheridge, naturalized player Bienve Maranon and touted Bundesliga player Gerrit Holtmann for the June 8 to 14 qualifiers, where the Azkals will also face host Mongolia on Saturday and Palestine on Tuesday.

To clinch a second trip to the Continental showpiece, Mr. Dooley’s charges should top their bracket or finish among the five best runners-up across the six groups.

Mr. Dooley, who is on his second tour of duty, is hoping to work his magic again after previously steering the team to its breakthrough Asian Cup qualification in 2018.

“I’m excited and love working with these players. I’m very pleased to see how committed they are to their training, how willing they are to learn and above all, want to be successful,” he said. “We’ll see what magic we can do in Mongolia.” — Olmin Leyba