Azkals chase history, battle Thailand for maiden appearance in AFF Suzuki Cup final
“They have to be scared about us scoring a goal,” Azkals coach Thomas Dooley says about the home team ahead of the Bangkok return leg. Jaime Campos

BANGKOK — History or heartbreak?

It is the moment of truth for Philippine men’s football team, which aims for a breakthrough final appearance in the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup after coming just short in the two previous editions of the showpiece.

Standing in the way is a Thailand side that now has the home-field advantage in the second leg of their semifinal showdown on Wednesday at the Rajamangala Stadium.

Coming off a scoreless draw in the first leg in Manila last Saturday, the Filipino booters and Thais face off anew at 8 p.m. (Manila time) with the winner taking on the survivor of the other Final Four pairing between Vietnam and Malaysia. The Vietnamese are ahead after winning away in the first leg, 2-1.

With the away-goal rule in play, the Azkals need just a scoring draw to advance to the final round, but are aiming for no less than a victory against a longtime tormentor in the War Elephants, who they haven’t beaten since 1972.

“It’s an open game,” team manager Dan Palami said. “Both teams are wary of what could happen. But of course I feel that somehow our players had a glimpse of how we could play against them.

“I think we don’t need to deviate from that formula,” he added. “We just need to be more clinical in our finishing and less tentative especially during the first minutes of each half because that’s where we are most vulnerable.”

[See Dan Palami plays it safe as Azkals get death threats ahead of Bangkok tie]

After putting up what he feels was an excellent performance in the first leg, Azkals skipper Rob Gier feels one goal is all it takes for the Nationals to get over the hump following two close calls in the past two editions of the tournament.

“We just got to score. It’s simple as that,” the Filipino-British defender said. “There’s no way we can play a hundred and eighty minutes performing like the way we did and not score a goal.”

While Thai strike stars Kirati Keawsombat (hamstring injury) and Adisak Kraisorn (red card) are expected to be out and leave the hosts toothless in attack, the Azkals have plenty of offensive weapons led by Phil Younghusband, who created a handful of chances in the opener.

“They have to be scared about us scoring a goal,” Azkals coach Thomas Dooley said.

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The Azkals, though, are in a familiar scenario. In the 2012 edition, they also settled for a scoreless draw against Singapore in the first leg in Manila, before bowing to the eventual champions, 1-0, in the second leg in the opponent’s turf.

That’s what they hope to avoid this time.

“It’s always at the back of your mind, but you can only be cautiously optimistic that this could be it,” Palami said.

“It will be a battle of wills,” he added. “I think it’s going to be one of the most exciting matches in the whole tournament.”

Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos