A DEPLETED Philippine men’s football team sets its sights on second best as it resumes its Asian Cup qualifying campaign on Maundy Thursday against Uzbekistan in Tashkent.
Four months after kissing their World Cup hopes goodbye with a disappointing 1-0 loss to lower-ranked Yemen at Rizal Memorial Stadium, the Azkals turn their focus on the Asian Cup as they face the Uzbeks on their opponents’ turf at the Bunyodkor Stadium.
The Filipino footballers are stuck in third spot in Group H of the World Cup qualifying, behind pacesetting North Korea and Uzbekistan, eliminating them from contention in the third round where only the top team in the group along with the four best second placers among the eight groups will advance.
The Thomas Dooley-mentored side, though, is still in the running for a place in the Asian Cup, the top competition in the continent, and at least a draw against the Uzbeks will enable the squad to keep a tight grip on their spot.
The national team, however, will miss injured Phil Younghusband and Stephan Schrock, as well as suspended Misagh Bahadoran and Manny Ott against Uzbekistan.
Rob Gier, Jerry Lucena, and Paul Mulders are also out of the equation after the veterans recently retired from national duty.
Dooley now will have to rely on overseas-based standouts Javier Patino, Iaian Ramsay, Neil Etheridge, and Luke Woodland as well as local stars Patrick Reichelt, Daisuke Sato, Martin Steuble, Simone Rota, Amani Aguinaldo, Juani Guirado, and OJ Porteria, and Kenshiro Daniels.
The void has also opened the door for seniors’ team rookies OJ Clarino, Jorrel Aristorenas, Jim Ashley Flores, and Dominic del Rosario.
The Azkals seek to atone for a tough 5-1 loss to the Uzbeks in their first leg at the Philippine Sports Stadium last September.