THE Philippine men’s football team hopes to keep its flat-lining bid for a spot in the third round of the Fifa World Cup qualifiers alive as it battles Yemen on Thursday night at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
The Azkals are coming off a 2-0 loss away loss to Bahrain last month that left them stuck in third spot in Group H with seven points in five matches, their hopes hanging by a thread.
That also left them in a must-win situation in their remaining three matches, starting with their hosting of the Yemenis at 8 p.m.
Only the top team in the group as well as the four best second placers among the eight groups will advance to the next round.
“(Having) that (pressure) should not hinder us from playing our game, not make it too difficult for us,” Azkals coach Thomas Dooley said on the eve of the match. “It should push every single one to know how important this game is.”
The Filipino booters, however, will miss strike star Phil Younghusband, who is suspended after incurring yellow cards against Uzbekistan and Bahrain, as well as promising center-back Luke Woodland, who is trying to make an impression for his new club, Chester FC.
The Azkals, who have been training together for a week, will at least be reinforced by another prolific striker in Javier Patiño, who returns after suffering a hamstring injury during his stint with Chinese club Henan Jianye.
The Yemenis, already eliminated from contention after going winless in its first five matches, will play the spoiler’s role as they try to give their war-torn country something to cheer about.
“They want to win the game, they want to beat us, and if we don't show one-hundred percent for every single player, it will be difficult,” Dooley said of Yemen. “But I believe in my team and I trust the team, everybody will show up tomorrow. I think we'll have a good chance to win.”
The Azkals blanked Yemen, 2-0, in their first meeting last June in a neutral territory in Qatar.