THE Philippine men’s football team ushers in a new era on Saturday when it squares off against Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur for its first friendly of the year.
Former US World Cup captain Thomas Dooley makes his debut as Azkals head coach in the 8:45 p.m. match that jumpstarts the national team’s buildup for the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup.
And no less than a victory against the Filipinos booters’ Southeast Asian neighbors is the goal of the American-German mentor, a proven winner as a player who’s trying to earn the same reputation as a coach.
“I want to win the game. I’m not going there to lose or tie,” said Dooley, who took over the reins just last month from Michael Weiss. “But it’s obviously difficult because we’re trying to form the team, put the system in.”
Dooley has formed a lineup that has a mix of veterans and young blood with Phil Younghusband and Rob Gier as the leaders.
The Azkals also welcome the return of Anton del Rosario, Nate Burkey, Simon Greatwich, and Ruben Doctora Jr. to the fold, while Nick O’Donnell, Kenshiro Daniels, Andrew Liauw, and Simone Rota wear the national jersey for the first time.
Martin Steuble, a Filipino-Swiss midfield recruit, also tries to make a solid impression in his inaugural appearance.
The Azkals are 23 spots ahead of the 150th-ranked Malaysians in the world, but have had a tough time against them in the past, having won only once in 15 matches since 1962 (1-3-11 win-draw-loss card).
The Filipino booters, though, fared better in recent meetings, having forced the Malaysians to two draws in 2012.
While winning is the goal, growth is more important for Dooley, who is tasked to steer the squad in its biggest tournament yet in May.
“I’d rather lose the next four games and win the Challenge Cup than winning the next four games and losing the Challenge Cup,” the no-nonsense coach said.
“So I hope I can see the players play as a unit. If everybody works together, then the team will be successful.”