BANGKOK — Two years ago, the Azkals scored a breakthrough against Vietnam. Now they hope to prove it was no fluke.
The Azkals’ group stage win over champion Vietnam in the 2010 Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup — its lone win in five games in the main tournament — catapulted them to the semifinals and triggered the football frenzy in the Philippines.
Now the team is staring at the possibility of failing to get through the group stage as they take on a Vietnamese side raring to exact revenge after that 0-2 defeat.
The match kicks off at 5:30 p.m. at the Rajamangala Stadium (6:30 p.m. Manila time) and the Philippines will be without German tactician Hans Michael Weiss, who was suspended for throwing a ball at an injured Thai player in a 1-2 defeat in the opening match on Saturday.
That result put the team in the bottom of the group scoreless, with Thailand on top with three points followed by Vietnam and Myanmar, which played to a draw and have a point each.
Azkals team manager Dan Palami believes they still hold the psychological edge over the Vietnamese two years after that match, but noted that the team is aware of Vietnam’s football pedigree.
“I think that every little advantage helps,” he said. “And if that little psychological advantage can help us going into the game against Vietnam, then we’ll certainly take it.”
“I think they’re wary of us and of course, on our part, we respect them and they’ve always been a strong team, but hopefully we will be stronger,” Palami added.
Phil Younghusband, who scored one of the Azkals’ two goals in that fateful December night in Hanoi, is also wary of the Vietnamese, who have apparently undergone major changes since that loss two years ago.
“I think it’s a different team,” the 25-year-old striker said.
“We have great memories against Vietnam, but when it comes to the field, I don’t think it will affect us."
“We’ll be thinking about the game. It’s two years later and there are different circumstances.”
Weiss said he found some weak points in the Red Warriors game that the Azkals can pounce on.
“They have technically-skilled players up front,” the German mentor said. “They have some problem in switching from defense to offense and gaps in the midfield we have to exploit, also a little bit fragile in the backline.”
The German manager reiterated the need to make changes to the Azkals’ starting eleven to prevent another messy start such as the first half against Thailand, where the national booters looked lost and surrendered two goals in a span of roughly one minute.
“We have to really reconsider the lineup. I consider this a little bit of a war and we need to find the warriors for the war,” Weiss said, singling out overseas-based Filipino-foreigners Dennis Cagara, Jerry Lucena, and Paul Mulders, who showed tremendous individual skill but didn’t seem to blend with the rest of the mainstays.
“They have the quality, but then sometimes they don’t perform as we know up to their abilities,” the German coach said. “So it takes time. Hopefully this process is over and the next game will be much better.”
Patrick Reichelt could be one of the players inserted into the starting lineup after the crafty Filipino-German right winger set up Mulders’ late goal.
The Azkals, though, will continue to miss two key players in striker Denis Wolf and midfielder Demit Omphroy, who are both out with an ankle injury and the flu, respectively.
“With strong firmness, we will go on against Vietnam,” Weiss said, clenching his fists. “But with words, nobody can win a war. We must show that you’re a man and ready to go through this.”