THE Philippine men’s football team continues its buildup for the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup as it hosts Papua New Guinea in a friendly on Sunday night at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
The local stars-studded Azkals welcome the match, which is considered a contingent plan and scheduled on short notice after Malaysia canceled its friendly with the Filipino booters supposedly slated also this week in the opponent’s turf.
The friendly was made possible through Azkals coach Thomas Dooley’s ties with PNG coach Wynton Rufer, who played against the Philippine mentor in the Bundesliga in the 1990s.
“Every game is important in our preparations,” Azkals skipper Rob Gier said on Saturday in the pre-match press conference at Century Park Hotel. “And it’s always nice to play in front of as many people as possible.”
The Azkals, the top-ranked squad in Southeast Asia at 134th, are coming in the 8 p.m. match as the heavy favorites against a side ranked 65 spots below them.
Still, the Filipino booters are not underestimating the Papua New Guineans, who fared admirably in a 1-2 away loss to defending Suzuki Cup champion Singapore last month.
“We’ll take them seriously,” Dooley said. “Rankings don’t mean anything. And their result last time says something so we have to be careful.”
Rufer admitted his team remains the underdogs against the Filipinos in the latter’s home field.
And a defeat for the squad, playing under the Oceania Football Confederation, would not be so deflating for the New Zealander mentor, so much so that he is willing to play six new players he has “never seen before.”
“I’m not going to be bothered about the result,” Rufer said. “I’m worried about the result next year.”
PNG, captained by David Muta, is preparing for the Pacific Games, which they consider their own most important competition next year.
Dooley hinted of giving the returning Chieffy Caligdong playing time.
“We will see how the game goes tomorrow,” the German-American mentor said. “He might get a few minutes.”