By Mars G. Alison
Will the outcome be different this time? This question will be answered this 7 p.m. as the Philippine Azkals meet the Malaysia Tigers in what is to be their fourth friendly match dubbed as the Face Off 2 at the Cebu City Sports Center (CCSC).
Both coaches, Thomas Dooley for the Azkals and Datuk Ong Kim Swee for the Tigers, acknowledged that the match may just be a friendly but it plays an important role in their preparation for big international competitions such as the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Challenge Cup and the AFF (ASEAN Football Federation) Suzuki Cup.
Both have also stated that tonight’s match will be tough but expressed confidence in their teams during yesterday’s pre-match press conference at the Cebu Parklane International Hotel.
“I have confidence in the team. I am very happy with their performance. I knew that they can play the type of soccer that I want,” said Dooley.
He added that they have learned from the changes in bringing in younger players, dealing with the injuries since most of those in the line-up now are also playing in the ongoing tournament of the United Football League (UFL), as well as players who have been called up but were not released by their clubs.
The Philippines and Malaysia have met three times in a friendly for the past three years and each match have ended in a draw, the latest was last March 1 in Malaysia which ended in a scoreless draw. It was Dooley’s first international friendly as the Azkals head coach after taking over the job from German Hans Michael Weiss last January.
About two weeks ago, Dooley said that the difference in their March 1 game and tonight’s will be if the Azkals can bring their game to a higher level, set their minds in playing it forward.
Dooley said that he was amazed that the Azkals was able to achieve the style of football that he wanted in such a short time that he has worked with them.
Asked if the team is in that level that he wanted now, Dooley said that he has been happy with how the team has performed since its match against Malaysia in March wherein they have played three other friendlies defeating Nepal 3-0 then figured in a 1-all stalemate against Al Ahli SC in Doha, Qatar, then bowing 0-1 to Azerbaijan in Dubai.
Dooley said that he is happy that the Azkals has been able to play the style of football that he wanted in their last three matches such as creating chances inside the box and all they need to do is to continue raising the level of their game and compete for goals.
According to Dooley, the level of the game that they are in now should not drop because it hasn’t since he started working with the team.
The Azkals will be having a new team captain in tonight’s match with Anton del Rosario taking over Rob Gier, who has to bow out for the moment to be with his wife who is about to give birth.
“I am very honored to have this role. I have big shoes to fill and I can’t wait to do it,” Del Rosario said.
Del Rosario hasn’t played with the Azkals in a little while. Not only will it be his first time to captain the team but it will also be his first time to play in Cebu as an Azkals.
As for Malaysia head coach Datuk Ong, this match will be good for both teams especially the variations. He added that they had a good game against the Philippines the last time.
He, however, said that he is expecting tonight’s match to be tougher because they will not only be playing against the players but against the home crowd as well.
Malaysia team captain Mohamad Aidil Zafuan Abd Radzak said he is expecting their team to work on their combinations especially with a few new players in the line-up.
According to Radzak, they are still working on jelling as a team in preparation for the Suzuki Cup.
Datuk Ong agreed that tonight’s friendly may be important but what’s more important is the team’s transition to its next assignment.
Dooley is hoping that Cebuanos will once again come in droves to support the Azkals because he wants to use the match as a motivation for the team when it finally leaves for Maldives for the AFC Challenge Cup.
“It is always good to have a home game to send a team off to a big competition. I want to use it to motivate them, that many people will be rooting for them and will be supporting them,” Dooley said.
The starting list will be released an hour before the match yet but those called up for tonight’s friendly aside from Del Rosario are Patrick Deyto, Simone Rota, Amani Aguinaldo, Chris and Simon Greatwhich, Jason de Jong, Ruben Doctora Jr., Jose Porteria, James Younghusband, Nathaniel Burkey, Patrick Reichelt, Kenshiro Daniels, Martin Steuble, Eduard Sacapano, Charles Pettys, Daiske Sato, Curt Dizon, Joven Bedic, Roxy Dorlas, Carli de Murga and Jerry Lucena.
Those who want to watch the game can still buy their tickets via www.smtickets.com or go to SM Cinema outlets.
The Cebu Football Association (CFA) has announced that no tickets will be sold at the CCSC.
The CFA is also reminding spectators of what they cannot bring inside CCSC such as bottled water, sharp objects, lighters, firecrackers, weapons, illegal drugs, poles and umbrellas.