The Philippine men’s football team faces a huge challenge against Tajikistan in the Asia Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup qualifiers on Wednesday morning (Manila time) at the Central Republican Stadium in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe.
Putting behind their disastrous 1-8 defeat to China in a friendly last week, the Azkals now set their sights on the bigger prize as they seek to seal their second win in Group F of the tournament’s qualifying phase.
Kick off is set at 9 p.m. local time (12 a.m. here in Manila).
Missing in action in the tune-up game at the Tianhe Stadium, Henan Jianye stiker Javier Patiño beefs up the lineup coming into the match while the late addition of Ruben Doctora and Ace Villanueva is expected to buck the absence of the injured James Younghusband, Pika Minegishi and Jeffrey Christiaens.
The 126-ranked Philippines nailed a 4-1 win against Nepal on its home turf at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium while 137th Tajikistan is coming off a slim 1-2 loss to Yemen, with both games played last March.
Moreover, the men’s national football team has the upperhand considering its previous fixtures against Tajikistan.
The Filipino side won 2-1 on March 2012 and settled for a goalless draw on May 2008, both in the AFC Challenge Cup tourney.
But the Tajiks overlook their past bouts against the Filipinos as they have bolstred their arsenal prior to the significant game.
Besides its home field advantage, the Central Asian nation leans on Alexander Huber, who has played in German clubs, and its mainstays from the top flight team FC Istiklol in its domestic league.
Tajikistan has began gathering its premier booters and holding training sessions on June 5 in preparation for the match.
The Persian Lions also look to pounce on the absence of seasoned goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, who begged off from national duties to secure his massive move to English football league second division club Cardiff City.