THE Philippine men’s national football team begins a key stretch in its FIFA World Cup qualifying bid today as it takes on Maldives in an away Group A match in Male.
Currently at third spot in the grouping with four points from a record of 1-1-1, the Philippine Azkals look to strengthen their push for the top two with a win over fourth-running Maldives (1-0-2, three points) at the National Football Stadium in Male, and on Nov. 19 against group-leading Syria in Dubai.
At the top of the heap in Group A are undefeated Syria (3-0-0) with nine points and China (2-1-0) with seven points. Bottom-scraping is Guam (0-0-4).
For this stretch of the team’s bid, the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) called up 23 players to make up the pool, which includes four Under-22 national team members.
Pool members 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, Iain Ramsay, Stephan Schrock, John-Patrick Strauss, Curt Dizon, Mark Hartmann, OJ Porteria and Patrick Reichelt.
U-22 players called up for duty are Marco Casambre, Justin Baas, Edison Suerti and Yrick Gallantes.
Coaching staff is made up of head coach Goran Milojevic, assisted by Hezirdan Ramadani and Milos Simic. Dan Palami is the team manager with Scott Joseph Cooper serving as assistant team manager.
The Azkals are coming off a spirited performance against China in Bacolod City on Oct. 15, holding the Chinese to a goalless draw.
It broke the stranglehold of China on the Philippines in the last two years where the Azkals went 0-3 against it with an average losing margin of four points.
The Azkals relied on a total team effort to hold their own in front of the hometown fans.
Goalkeeper Etheridge was solid in his national team duty return after missing the first two matches of the qualifiers because of injury.
The team was also fluid in its attack on both ends, allowing it to put up a sustained fight against the Chinese in the full 90 minutes and in stoppage time.
“It was a team performance. We did not get the win but at least we got a point from the draw and have something to build on,” said a satisfied Etheridge, who touted how the team was very focused in its preparation in the lead-up and how every player was committed to getting a positive outcome from the match.
The World Cup qualifier also serves as a qualification for the AFC Asian Cup. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo