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Azkals beat Maldives in a tune-up game, Can they beat Uzbekistan on September 8?

Azkals beat Maldives in a tune-up game, Can they beat Uzbekistan on September 8?

Cautiously optimistic.

This was the latest term used by Azkals manager Dan Palami as he assessed the Philippine national football team’s chances four days before the all-important game against a motivated Uzbekistan on Sept. 8 at the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bocaue, Bulacan.

For his part, Azkals coach Thomas Dooley remained grounded, telling the Azkals that Uzbekistan is a strong team with players exposed to top level matches in Europe and Asia.

“We are up against a team that is in 76th place (in the FIFA rankings) with players who have regional experience,” Palami said. The Azkals are ranked 125th in the August FIFA rankings.      

He said some players of Uzbekistan are playing in regional football leagues with strong teams, giving them formidable experience and exposure to tough competition. One of the Uzbek players, Server Djeparov, is a two-time Asian footballer of the year, while others play in Russian football clubs like Odil Akhmedov and Vitaliy Denisov.

Based on the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) website, Uzbekistan is considered one of the best football teams in Asia along with football powerhouses Iran, South Korea, Japan, Australia, United Arab Emirates, and China.

Palami said in order to win, the Azkals should “capitalize on chances afforded to them” during the match. “They (players) should be focused and disciplined and utilize strong defense against the Uzbeks.”

He revealed that they have studied the video of the Uzbeks’ game against the North Koreans last June 16 where the latter surprised the former, 4-2. In the AFC Asian Cup in January this year, Uzbekistan beat North Korea, 1-0, in Sydney, Australia.

Dooley said the Uzbeks would be highly motivated going into the match with the Azkals to make up for their surprise defeat in the hands of the North Koreans.

“I told them (Azkals) the Uzbeks have international experience and technically good and have members who played in Asian and Russian leagues,” Dooley said as he emphasized the need not to be overconfident.

He said the Azkals should not allow the Uzbeks to score first or it would be difficult for the team to recover.

He expressed confidence the Azkals players would be giving their best in Tuesday’s match. “They have been working hard and playing good football.”

“We have a great team where everybody works for everybody,” he added.

Dooley admitted that the Azkals did not give their all-out during the friendly match against Maldives last Thursday at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex to avoid unnecessary injuries. The Azkals won, 2-0.

Although Uzbekistan has never qualified for the World Cup finals, it is a regular participant in the AFC Asian Cup and has consistently been the strongest team out of the new countries of Central Asia following the collapse of the former USSR.

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