THE Philippine men’s football team recharges after a grueling group stage of the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup in Vietnam and prepare to face Thailand in the home-and-away semifinals starting on Saturday at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
After their flight from Hanoi on Saturday and a 10-hour layover in Hong Kong the Filipino footballers arrived in Manila on Sunday morning, their bodies banged up but minds still focused on bouncing back from a 3-1 defeat against the Group A host team Vietnam.
“People don’t realize how hard this tournament is because it’s a long tournament,” Rob Gier said. “You’re in and out of hotels, the routine’s the same, and you kind of get stir crazy in hotels.”
“So it’s nice to go back to Manila,” the Azkals skipper added. “Guys can go home for a couple of days, try to just forget things for a little while and then come back raring to go and put in a good performance.”
While insisting their fitness is fine, Phil Younghusband admitted the fatigue may be taking its toll.
“Maybe some players — with three games in seven days — maybe feeling a bit tired,” the star striker said. “But we have (enough time) to recover before the home leg. Physically we’ll be ready for that.”
After putting up their best start in the tournament with two early wins, including a clinical 4-0 victory over Indonesia, the Azkals crashed back to earth with the loss to Vietnam to finish second in their bracket.
Now the Filipinos gear up for Thailand, which went unbeaten in three matches to emerge on top ahead of Malaysia in Group B and arrange a knockout stage meeting with the Philippines.
“We’ve seen what (Thailand’s) about,” Gier said. “For me Vietnam and Thailand are tournament favorites and we’ve already played one of them and lost.”
“But there’s no reason why we can’t go out against Thailand and get a result in Manila and get a result in Bangkok as well,” he was quick to add.
“I’ve always said that I truly believe in this team,” Gier continued. “If we can put together a performance like we did against Indonesia, we can beat anyone in this competition.”
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Thailand, though, has had the Philippines’ number since time immemorial, reasserting its mastery with a 3-0 win in a friendly before the Suzuki Cup.
“At least we know a little bit about Thailand now,” Younghusband said. “This time we’ll have our strongest team.”