HANOI - A Philippine men’s football team that faces little pressure aims to keep building confidence heading into the knockout stage of the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup opposite familiar foe Vietnam in the final day of the group stage on Friday.
Already through to the semifinals after two straight wins that saw them deliver an amazing performance, the Azkals remain eager to perform well against a side they have mastered in their last two meetings.
The Filipino booters shocked the Vietnamese, 2-0, in the 2010 edition of the meet in a match that sparked the renaissance of the sport in the country. They replicated the feat two years ago when they nipped the Southeast Asian powerhouse, 1-0, thanks to a late winner by homegrown hero Chieffy Caligdong.
Now, the two teams face off anew at 8 p.m. (PH time) with the hosts still considered the favorites as they play in front of home fans at the 40,000-seat My Dinh National Stadium.
“They’re one of the favorites in the competition,” said skipper Rob Gier, one of the four remnants, along with Chris Greatwich and James and Phil Younghusband, of the 2010 team that made history and put the Philippines back on the Asean football map. “With a crowd cheering for them, it’s going to be a difficult game.”
“But we’re underdogs who don’t have to win,” he added. “It’s just nice knowing that we can go into the game a little bit free knowing that we’ve qualified.”
“But make no mistake about it; we want to top the group,” the Filipino-British defender continued. “We won’t be taking our foot off the pedal. We’re going for that win again for sure.”
The Azkals only need a draw to achieve their objective, while a draw for second-ranked Vietnam will also be enough for the host team to advance.
Vietnam coach Toshiya Miura remained wary of the Filipinos, but are hoping to snap the skid.
“The Philippines is very strong and recently has been stronger than Vietnam,” the Japanese mentor said.
Azkals coach Thomas Dooley stressed the team’s last two wins against the Vietnamese hardly matter as he wants to continue to see improved play from his boys.
“The past games don’t mean anything,” the German-American mentor said. “Collective team effort, the strategy on how we want to play - these are the main focus. Everything else doesn’t matter.”