Azkals eye AFC Challenge cup title vs Palestine dogfight for history
MALE’ – Victory doesn’t only mean a piece of history for the Philippine Azkals and Palestine but more of gaining recognition as one among the Asian elite as they clash in the finals of the AFC Challenge Cup at 9 tonight here (12 midnight Saturday in Manila).
It will be 90 minutes of pulsating finale for a milestone journey to the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Sydney as the history-chasing Azkals go all out to play their very best for the last ticket to the Continent’s football showpiece.
“This is what we wanted, this is what we came here for, this is what we’re striving for,” said captain Rob Gier.
The Azkals are trying to rewrite history as the country long at the bottom of the football pecking order has probably never won an Asia-wide tourney over the last century.
The Azkals have one international title but more on a regional level among four nations two years ago back home.
But more importantly, what used to be an impossible dream – that of playing in the 16-nation Asian Cup along the likes of heavyweights Japan, Iraq and Jordan – can be realized with another for-the-books performance tonight.
“We’re not really trying to think about the history side of things too much. We’re focusing more on the game itself. There’s no doubt this is our biggest ever game so we’re fully focused on trying to recover after that tough game (semis against Maldives) the other night and preparing for Palestine,” said Gier.
Palestine, the Group A topnotcher, is one tough customer. Phl and Palestine battled it out last year in the bronze medal match of the 2012 Challenge Cup with the Azkals winning, 4-3, but the Palestinians have come here with a different cast.
“It will be a difficult game; it’s the finals so both teams will be out for it,” said striker Phil Younghusband.
“We don’t know what to expect from Palestine because I think they’ve only got one player who played in 2012 and they haven’t conceded a goal so far. It’s gonna be tough for us but I think with the spirit and confidence we have, we feel we can get the win,” he added.
Team manager Dan Palami said coaching staff went over Palestine’s videos to study how to break them down.
“We’ve seen their games and I think we know how to go about it. But at the same time, we need to make sure we’re consistent the whole game (unlike in the semis against Maldives). We can’t afford to have some lapses because Palestine is a really good team and they’ll make you pay for it dearly,” said Palami.
The Azkals used the three days between Tuesday’s semis and tonight’s final to recover and psyche up for the Big One. Some of the players like Stephan Schrock (hamstring) and Daisuke Sato (Achilles) hope to be in better shape by the time they hit the pitch.
“I have full belief in the guys. We’ve played a lot of games already and I thought we looked pretty strong in extra time (in the Maldives game); we were still running around, trying our hardest best so I’ve always believed in this team and I don’t believe anything’s gonna be different come Friday,” said Gier.
The Azkals were in high spirits when they trained yesterday at Henveiru grounds.
“Obviously, the mood in the camp is great. The boys are getting on all excited; there’s a nervous energy which is bound to be (considering that) none of us have been in this situation before. But spirit’s high and the boys are looking good so I think we’re in good shape,” said Gier.