THE first real test in Sven Goran Erikkson’s stint as Philippine manager comes three games into his arrival as the Azkals host an in-form Thailand squad in a battle of the two unbeaten teams in Group B of the AFF Suzuki Cup on Wednesday at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod.
The two teams are at an identical six points with the victor being given a chance to advance to the semifinals of the tournament.
Erikkson will be facing the team which has given the Philippines fits for the longest of time, with the country’s last win against their Southeast Asian neighbor coming 46 years ago.
Since then, the Philippines has lost 15 of their 16 games, with the most favorable result coming four years ago, when they came away with a scoreless draw against the War Elephants in this same tournament.
“I’m not quite sure, but if you ask any football supporter in Asia or in the world, Thailand is the favorite to win this group,” said Erikkson.
“I hope we can change that tomorrow. If we play good football, we’ll have a very good chance so I’m very positive,” he added.
The big match follows a shaky finish to the Timor Leste game where the heavily favored Azkals gave away two goals in a three-minute span, turning what looked like a 3-0 blowout to a scary 3-2 lead with more than 15 minutes left on the clock.
For the 70-year-old Swede, it won’t take a World Cup caliber coach to figure out that the Azkals need to play a lot better than they did against Timor Leste in order to get a shot at beating the regional powerhouse.
“I think, no, I know, we have to play better than that second half [against Timor Leste]. If we’re not able to do that then we won't beat Thailand but I am convinced, and I am sure that we will play better,” he added.
Team skipper Phil Younghusband agreed.
Younghusband, who’s set to play his 102nd game in an Azkals uniform, knows the team too well that he’s confident that they’re gonna play a whole lot better than they did in the final 45 minutes against Timor Leste.
“In the second half of the Timor Leste game, we dropped our standards but I think when we come up against teams with better quality, we also raise our standards and I think that will be the case tomorrow,” said Younghusband.
“Thailand is a good team but I think come game time tomorrow the team is ready to raise their standards,” he added.
The 31 year old striker has always been on the losing end against Thailand, but he hopes that the extra gear that they’ll be getting from the Bacolod crowd will be enough to tow them to a favorable result.
“Thailand is a strong team, they had a good start, and no matter which players they put out they’ve always been a strong team and we’ve found out about that in the past,” Younghusband said.
“We’re glad we’re bringing them here to Bacolod, a good crowd tomorrow will give us an advantage.”
One thing’s for certain for Younghusband, he can’t wait to set foot on the pitch on Wednesday night and he promises to give everything to end that 46-year drought against the Thais.
“It’s a big game tomorrow, it’s the two teams that’s top of the group and if we can get good results tomorrow, it will give us confidence for the rest of the tournament so we go now, give everything we’ve got for the country, we’re excited.”