THE Philippine men’s football team seeks to finish its Asian Cup qualifying second-round campaign on a high note as it hosts North Korea at the Rizal Memorial Stadium on Tuesday night.
After putting up a brave stand in a close 1-0 loss to group-leading Uzbekistan last Thursday, the Azkals return for its last home stand, taking on the North Koreans at 8 p.m.
The Filipino booters have already been eliminated from the World Cup qualifers but are still firmly in the running for a maiden appearance in the 2019 Asian Cup.
A victory for the third-running Azkals will guarantee them a spot in the third round of the Asian Cup qualifying, while a loss will send them into a playoff for a berth.
After impressively holding North Korea to a scoreless draw in a defense-oriented match in Pyongyang last October, the Azkals seek to take the fight to their higher-ranked foes to get three points.
“We have to play a little bit of football,” Azkals coach Thomas Dooley said on Monday in the pre-match press conference. “They just have to have the confidence they can do it against a team like North Korea.”
“(But) the players are focused,” the German-American mentor added.
[See Juani Guirado calls it quits, set to skipper Azkals in farewell match vs North Korea]
Phil Younghusband and Stephan Schrock are still out due to injuries, but Misagh Bahadoran, the team’s top scorer in the tournament, and Manny Ott are back after serving respective one-game suspensions.
“I’m looking forward to have those two quality players back,” Dooley said.
James Younghusband also makes his national team return, joining rookies in Loyola Meralco teammate Daniel Gadia and Kaya FC midfielder Miguel Tanton.
“The Azkals are a very promising team…but we came here to win,” said North Korea coach Kim Chang Bok, whose team aims to supplant Uzbekistan from the top of the five-team standings, entailing automatic entry to the third round of the World Cup qualifiers.