THE Philippines finds itself in a familiar position as it continues its World Cup Qualifying campaign against Uzbekistan on Tuesday night at the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bocaue, Bulacan.
But the Azkals, already used to playing with the odds stacked against them, face a much tougher task this time against that’s 49 spots ahead in the world rankings.
Uzbekistan, regarded as the best team in Central Asia, is ranked 76th in the world, the highest-ranked team the 125th-ranked Azkals will face yet.
The Uzbeks, also known as the White Wolves, seemed to struggle early, bowing to North Korea, 4-2, and needing to survive lowly Yemen, 1-0, in their first two matches.
But Philippine coach Thomas Dooley believes the Uzbeks, who are running third behind the Azkals, are the strongest team in Group H.
“We are the underdogs,” he said in the pre-match press conference on Monday on the eve of the match that kicks off at 8 p.m. “There’s no question about that.”
“But in football, anything can happen,” the optimistic German-American mentor was quick to add.
After all, the Filipino booters enter the field brimming with confidence after opening their Qualifying stint with a stunning 2-1 victory over another fancied team in Bahrain, before scoring a 2-0 win over Yemen in June.
The Azkals warmed up with a 2-0 win over Maldives in a friendly last Thursday at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
Uzbekistan, led by two-time Asian Football Confederation Player of the Year Server Djeparov, arrived on Sunday night.
“We know what Uzbekistan has to offer, but we also know what we have to offer,” Azkals skipper Phil Younghusband said. “And we know if we do our jobs right and we play well, then we can cause an upset.”
“I think about myself, my teammates, and us playing the best we can, and I know that if we play the best we can, we can get a good result,” the star striker, who has thrived in his new midfield role, added.
“I wouldn’t call it a miracle (if we win).”