F Azkals to prove worth vs Wolves - Powcast Sports

Azkals to prove worth vs Wolves

 BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – The Philippine Azkals face the unheralded Mongolia Blue Wolves in a simple opener of a home-and-away series but which comes as a sort of a celebration for the country’s newly minted sports heroes and the resurgence of interest in the beautiful game.

The team, an assembly of 23 lads adored like rock stars for their looks as much as talent on the pitch, seeks to show that they are for real and not just an overnight one-hit wonder.

They get to strut their stuff at 7 tonight against an obscure Mongolia side in the first game of their AFC Challenge Cup qualifying tie.

Watching them are an expected 20,000-plus crowd who would pack the Panaad Park and Stadium to witness them play for the first time since their defining semifinal stint at the AFF Suzuki Cup last year.

“We’re at the crossroads. We have to answer the question whether 2010 was simply a fluke for the Azkals,” said team manager Dan Palami, whose crew caught everyone’s attention when it shocked Vietnam, 2-0, and battled Singapore (1-1), and Myanmar (0-0) to draws en route to a last four appearance in the Suzuki Cup last year.

“We’ll be judged by this game. We can’t discount the fact that there are still some who feel we were just lucky. We have to prove to them that it was not just luck, it was hard work and total effort on the part of the team,” he added.

The Azkals will parade Neil Etheridge, Aly Borromeo, Rob Gier, Ray Jonsson, Anton del Rosario, Roel Gener, Jason De Jong, James Younghusband, Chieffy Caligdong, Ian Araneta, Phil Younghusband, Simon Greatwich, Nestorio Margarse, Eduard Sacapano, Mark Ferrer, Reymark Palmes, Kim Relucio, Jerry Barbaso, Patrick Hinrichsen, Peter Jaugan, Jason Sabio, Yanti Barsales, Joebel Bermejo against Mongolia.

After this, the Phl booters will travel to freezing Mongolia on March 15 for the last game of their tie. Should they hurdle the Mongolians, the Azkals will take on Myanmar, Palestine and Bangladesh in the group stages, gunning for a victory and a berth to the tournament proper of the AFC Challenge Cup next year.

“Hopefully, a win over Mongolia will set the tone for this year’s campaign,” Palami said.

Phl coach Hans Michael Weiss declared his wards are all set to rumble.

“We have no more concerns right now,” Weiss said on the eve of the match. “We have a wonderful group of players who are on a high fever for this match, and the highest motivation to play in front of their countrymen,” he said.

Skipper Borromeo, for his part, said: “Everyone’s in high spirits right now. They’re all excited to get out into the pitch and no one’s overconfident. The players, the starting 11 especially, are all experienced and mentally prepared, focused and all set to go.”

The younger (23-year age average) and relatively inexperienced Mongolia Blue Wolves, though, vowed to make it a “dog fight” against the fancied Azkals.

“The Philippines is stronger, they have higher Fifa ranking, but any team who’s playing on the field always aims to win so that will be our aim too,” Blue Wolves coach Erdenebat Sandagdorj through an interpreter.

However, he admitted that only half of the side has international experience, but they trained hard since November, having the stretch of their camp in Guangzhou, China.

Notes: Although President Aquino will not be around, the Azkals will dedicate this game as a birthday gift to the Chief Executive, who celebrated his 51st birthday on the eve of the game....An after-game party with the Azkals has been set at 9 p.m. tonight at the L’Fisher Chalet Roofdeck to allow fans to savor the result of the match. - By Olmin Leyba (Philstar News Service, www.philstar.com)

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