The Philippines will take on the dangerous Tajikistan squad in a crucial third round match of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup 2019 qualifiers today at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in Manila.
Tension is high as both the world-ranked No. 122 Philippine Azkals and the No. 124 Persian Lions are seeking to secure their first-ever Asian Cup appearance in the 7:30 p.m. game.
The Philippines currently leads Group F with nine points on a 2-3-0 win-draw-loss record. The unbeaten Azkals only need a draw to enter the Asian Cup.
Tajikistan, on the other hand, is No. 3 with 7 points on a 2-1-2 card and a head-to-head disadvantage to Yemen. A loss for the Tajiks and a win by the Yemenis over also-ran Nepal will shatter their Asian Cup dream.
In their first meeting, the Filipinos won 4-3 victory over the Tajiks at the Pamir Stadium in Dushanbe.
Azkals skipper Phil Younghusband expects that Tajikistan will also go all-out comes Tuesday night.
“We expect them (Tajikistan) to be very aggressive and coming out a hundred percent. It’s important that we have the right preparation,” said the longtime national stalwart.
Besides Younghusband who is looking to score his 50th international goal in the Philippines’ biggest match yet in history, head coach Thomas Dooley is expected to bank on goalkeeper Neil Etheridge and defender Daisuke Sato. Prolific striker Javier Patiño, meanwhile, is still doubtful to play full time.
The Philippines won 3-2 in an international friendly match against Fiji last Thursday night, which served as a preparation for today’s crucial game.
Dooley admonished his men for their porous defense during their friendly against the Fijians, stressing that they have to do better against the more dangerous Tajiks.
“Defensively, we didn’t do a good job. Obviously, the transition from offense to defense is just too slow. That’s what we have to change. We know that if we play like this against Tajikistan, it would not be enough,” said Dooley.