Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Azkals ready to pounce on Australia U-23

By Alfonso Ramirez

Dubai — A fiercer Philippine national men’s football team, backstopped by the arrival of Neil Etheridge, will try to pounce on a beleaguered Australian Under-23 squad in a friendly that is expected to turn into an all-out street fight on Thursday evening at the Al Maktoum stadium in Dubai.

Fresh from an ego-boosting 3-1 win against the Al Ahli Club in Qatar, the resurgent Azkals hope to carry their luck over in the last of three fixtures lined up for the squad that will cap their 10-day Middle East tour.

The Qantas Olyroos, meanwhile, badly need a morale-boosting win before they face the UAE on February 22 in a do-or-die match to bolster their chances of making it to the London Olympics.

Azkals coach Hans Michael Weiss said the team is well-adjusted and has blended better compared to their initial outing against the powerhouse Uzbekistan U-23 team that totally outclassed the Philippine side last Saturday.

“We were more adjusted in the second game and we’re also better organized and the team understands each other better so hopefully we can bring this to the match tomorrow (Thursday),” Weiss told InterAKTV during the national team’s visit to The Philippine School in Rashidiya, Dubai.

“Our opponents (Al Ahli) were not as strong [as Uzbekistan]… the first one was really much stronger. In the first game, we faced a different environment and jet lag, but [I’m not offering an] excuse. When you travel, you know what I’m talking about,” the German coach said.

The Azkals, who are in camp to prepare for next month’s AFC Challenge Cup in Nepal, will again be experimenting on positions and tactics as new players led by Etheridge will suit up for the Philippine side.

The Fulham goalkeeper arrived straight from London and will take over the No. 1 position from Roland Mueller, who left the Azkals camp to attend to his commitment to Bundesliga second division club MSV Duisburg.

Etheridge, who once suited up for the England U-16 team, said that Thursday’s match will not be a walk in the park for the Azkals as the Olyroos need a morale boost after losing to the Uzbeks earlier this month and are facing the prospects of becoming the first Australian team to crash out of the Olympic qualifiers in 28 years.

“I’m expecting a tough match. The Australian team has been preparing for the Olympics and I think they’re in bad form before, but it doesn’t really matter for when it comes to Thursday evening it’s two team going to play out the best as they can and hopefully we come out victorious,” he said.

The Olyroos will need to win its match against the UAE on February 22. The match will be played in the Emiratis’ turf in Dubai.

The Olyroos where pushed to wall after they lost to Uzbekistan, the same team that gave the Azkals a 3-0 drubbing, earlier this month. That left the Australians in the group’s cellar with three points from four games. The Uzbeks top the group with eight points. Only group toppers will go to London, according to FIFA rules.

Should they win against the UAE, the Olyroos will have to win against Iraq on March 14 and sneak into second place. That will put them into the lottery of a playoff in Vietnam from March 25 to 29 against second-placed teams from two other Asian groups, likely to be Oman and Syria. If the Olyroos can get through that stage, they will have a final playoff against Senegal, who finished fourth at the 2011 African U-23 championships.

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