The Philippine men’s football team has spent a lot of time, money, and hard work, among other things, in the last couple of years preparing for the 2012 Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup.
Whether the investment pays off or not will be determined on Wednesday night when the Azkals collide with the Singapore Lions in the second leg of the semifinals at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
The Azkals hope to finally surpass their historic semifinal finish in 2010 as they seek a berth in the Finals opposite the winner of the Malaysia-Thailand pairing.
“We’ve always been saying that this is what we’ll all be waiting for,” Azkals manager Dan Palami said on Tuesday. “We don’t want to settle for just another semifinal appearance even if it was already a big achievement.”
The favorites last Saturday in their home turf at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, where they could only come up with a scoreless draw, the Azkals are entering their 8 p.m. affair with the Singaporeans as the underdogs this time, especially playing in the Lions’ den.
Mimicking their past games in the group stage, the Azkals were once again mired in a slow start in the first leg in Manila. Although they showed marked improvement in the second half, the Azkals came up empty handed.
Palami hopes to break the trend.
“In all our games even during the group stages we’ve always been better in the second half,” the businessman from Tacloban said. “We hope to start better and continue the pressure in the second half. We will stand a better chance.”
But center back Rob Gier, a member of the resolute backline along with Dennis Cagara, Juani Guirado, and Carli de Murga, has warned his teammates on getting overexcited in what could be the biggest game in Philippine football history.
“We’d be crazy to go all guns blazing in the first minute,” said the Filipino-British defender, who’s expected to wear the captain’s armband anew. “The first thing we’re going to do is to keep a good shape and clean sheet.”
While the Azkals, whose defense even becomes stronger with the return of Filipino-Danish Jerry Lucena, only need a draw with goals to advance, they are definitely going all-out for the all-important victory.
A scoreless draw at full time will force two extra 15-minute periods. A penalty shootout ensues if both teams still end up tied.
“We know we have a slight advantage in the fact that a scoring draw will get us through but when teams play for draws it all ends up badly,” Gier said.