THE Philippine Azkals face an experienced Uzbekistan side on September 8 in a game expected to test anew the mettle of the strongest national football team roster ever assembled.
“We need the support of Filipino football enthusiasts and even non-football fans to fill up the Philippine Stadium in Bocaue, Bulacan, and applaud and inspire our players to give their best for the country,” said team manager Dan Palami of the highly-awaited match that serves as part of the Asian qualifiers of the 2018 Fifa World Cup.
Game time is at 8 p.m.
“There’s no better way to push our Azkals to play at the top of their game, score goals, and impose a high-pressure defense on the opponents than the thunderous applause, encouraging shouts of fans, and electric atmosphere in the stadium,” coach Thomas Dooley said about playing anew in the newest and largest stadium in the country today.
Inaugurated last year, the Philippine Sports Stadium has a maximum football seating capacity of 20,000.
Dooley noted Uzbekistan, which at 75th in the recent Fifa rankings is the highest rated team in its group, is a formidable opponent and has been burnishing its credentials as genuine title contenders in Asia.
The Uzbeks had a good showing in the tough Asian Cup with back-to-back quarterfinal appearances in 2004 and 2007, respectively, and a fourth place finish in Qatar in 2011.
Uzbekistan is determined even more to qualify for its first World Cup since 2018 host Russia is just next door of the country.
The Azkals, on the other hand, are ranked 124th, so far their highest place in the history of the Fifa rankings, well higher than Southeast Asian neighbors Thailand (140th) and Vietnam (143rd).
“The team is very motivated to end the qualifying round at the top of the group to be able to move a step closer to the World Cup. It’s an uphill goal but we will do our best to achieve it,” Palami said.
Finishing as one of the four best second placers in the qualifying round will likewise enable the team to make the cut to the next round of the World Cup.
Palami believes the Azkals have assembled the strongest national team roster ever with the addition of highly experienced Filipinos playing abroad and some returnees.
The good showing of the team in its first two outings indicated the impressive lineup is living up to its billing. The Azkals defeated Bahrain for the first time, 2-1, at home last June 11, then thrashed Yemen, 2-0, on the road last June 16.
A win against Uzbekistan will help advance the team to the next round in the World Cup qualifiers and also book an automatic slot in the next AFC Asian Cup.
Tickets for the Azkals vs. Uzbekistan game are now available at www.ticketworld.com.ph. Tickets are at P531.80 for Price Zone 1, P331.14 for Price Zone 2 and P125.40 for Price Zone 3.