SUZUKI Cup champion Malaysia will be facing a better, more cohesive Philippine side when they collide on Friday in an international friendly at the Shah Alam Stadium in Selangor.
The two squads battled to a 1-1 draw last February with the Azkals denied with a precious victory after an 89th minute equalizer by Malaysia at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
But members of the Philippine side who played critical roles in the Azkals’ run to a historic third-place finish in the AFC Challenge Cup in Kathmandu, Nepal last March believe they are a much-improved side than the one Malaysia faced more than three months ago.
“We are a stronger team than the one that played on that day,” said midfielder Misagh Bahadoran yesterday at the PSA Forum at the Shakey’s U.N. Avenue in Manila.
“I think we have a very big chance of winning against Malaysia even at their homefield.”
Still, Bahadoran admitted that the absence of Phil and James Younghusband and Neil Etheridge is a big blow to the side.
The Younghusband brothers are skipping the match because of a prior commitment, while Etheridge will serve a one-game suspension for an off-the-field incident during the third-place match against Palestine in the AFC Challenge Cup.
Defender Juani Guirado echoed Bahadoran’s statement, saying the Azkals have a better team now.
“This team is better,” said Guirado. “We are getting the respect from other football countries. Malaysia will be a good match, but its important that we get to play competitive games like this.”