BANGKOK — The Philippines’ quest for regional football glory takes on a new shape Saturday when the celebrated Azkals kick off its Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup campaign against Thailand at the Rajamangala Stadium.
After their unprecedented semifinal finish in the last edition of the meet two years ago sparked a renaissance of the sport in the country, the Azkals enter Southeast Asia’s premier football competition this time aiming to scale greater heights.
Although they have overtaken the 152nd-ranked Thais in the latest Fifa rankings to become the second-best team in the region, the 143-ranked Azkals are still considered the underdogs against the host and three-time Suzuki Cup champions in their 8:20 p.m. (9:20 p.m. Philippine time) match.
Well aware of their status heading into the anticipated match up at the 80,000-seat venue, coach Michael Weiss hopes the Azkals would be able to pounce on the slightest defensive lapse from the War Elephants.
“The first match will be interesting from the point of view that we will probably play a little bit conservative and really go for strong counters,” the German mentor said. “And they have to do something home because with the home crowd, they cannot play defensively. They have to attack. And that hopefully can give us open spaces.”
Weiss added the Thais would play a similar type of game, only faster.
“They are very quick when transforming from defense to offense.”
Despite the tough opening assignment, Weiss is confident of their chances in the campaign.
The Azkals face Vietnam on November 27, before ending their group stage against Myanmar three days later.
“The tournament is not over even if we lose this match,” Weiss said. “Of course this game will determine the mood and where we stand, but again, one game at a time, and one plan at a time for every opponent and we’ll see.”