THE Philippine men’s football team looks top shake off the rust by taking on Maldives in a friendly on Thursday night at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
In their first competitive action as a unit since June, the Azkals face a familiar foe in the Maldivians at 8 p.m. as they continue their buildup for the Fifa World Cup/Asian Football Confederation Cup joint qualifiers.
The Filipino booters linked up with their respective mother clubs after kicking off their qualifying campaign with two impressive victories, a 2-1 stunner over higher-ranked Bahrain last June 11 and a 2-0 shutout of Yemen five days later.
They returned to training camp only last weekend ahead of their Group H match against Uzbekistan on Tuesday.
The Azkals now try to regain their form with an international friendly against the Maldivians, the first meeting between the two nations since the Filipino booters scored a 3-2 extra time win at the opponent’s turf in Male to book a ticket to the AFC Challenge Cup finals last year.
“It’s a very important game for us,” Azkals coach Thomas Dooley said in the pre-match press conference on Wednesday. “We don’t have friendly games anymore.”
Phil Younghusband, who will wear the captain’s armband in lieu of injured Rob Gier, is pleased the Azkals will finally see action.
“It’s never ideal,” the country’s top scorer said of their preparations. “But we account for those challenges and we do the best we can.”
The 125th-ranked Azkals, who are running second to North Korea on goal difference in Group H, are still fancied against the Maldivians, who are ranked 50 spots below them.
Stephan Schrock arrived on Tuesday night, joining fellow overseas-based standouts Iain Ramsay Neil Etheridge, Roland Muller, Kevin Ingreso, and Jerry Lucena.
Javier Patiño and Stephan Palla are expected to land later in the day, while Luke Woodland is expected to arrive on Friday.