Azkals out to punch early ticket to Suzuki Cup semis in match against Indonesia
Azkals coach Thomas Dooley expects the Indonesians to be on attack mode. Jerome Ascano

HANOI – The Philippine men’s football team tries to make an early entry to the semifinals of the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup for a change, continuing its campaign against Indonesia on Tuesday at the My Dinh National Stadium.

After starting slow and waiting until the last whistle of their last group stage match in the last two editions of Southeast Asia’s championship to determine their fate, the Azkals gained a golden opportunity to catch the first bus to the knockout stage after opening their stint with a 4-1 victory over Laos last Saturday.

“We’re in a good situation,” Azkals coach Thomas Dooley said on Monday during the pre-match press conference. “But we have to win first, because it’s going to be more difficult next game as Vietnam is the strongest team in our group.”

The Filipino booters, who are on top of Group A with three points, face the host team in the last day of the group stage on Friday.

But the Azkals hope to avoid complications in their bid to capture a breakthrough title as they take on the Merah Putih in a match that kicks off at 5 p.m. (Manila time).

“If we want to be the best, we have to beat the best. And Indonesia is one of the best teams in Southeast Asia,” striker Phil Youghusband said of the world’s 157th-ranked squad.  

The Azkals are also ranged against an Indonesian side that’s left in a must-win situation after gaining only one point following a 2-2 draw against Vietnam also last Saturday.

“I think they will be more aggressive and attack a little bit more,” Dooley said of the Indonesians, who salvaged the stalemate with a late goal against Vietnam. “So we have to do everything right, make less mistakes.”

One mistake Dooley hopes the Filipino booters avoid is to commit unnecessary fouls, like one that occurred in the opener when they surrendered a close-range free kick that led to the Laotians’ only goal.

“Sometimes we’re making easy fouls when we shouldn’t,” the German-American mentor said. “We should just stay behind the player and let him make a mistake. We are sometimes a bit too aggressive and especially in front of our goal.”

“We need to stop giving free kicks away in dangerous areas, because we know the quality and technique of Asian players is so good that they can score (from a free kick)” Younghusband added.

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“But it’s difficult. We have a lot of players from Europe where the refereeing is different. Sometimes, a foul in Europe is not a foul here in Asia.”

Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos