The Philippine national football team will have to win its crucial match against Yemen on Thursday to keep its bid alive in the joint 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers, according to head coach Thomas Dooley.
“We have to win. It will be very difficult but we have to win,” Dooley told The Manila Times.
Following a sluggish performance the last time out, the Azkals now face a tall task grabbing maximum points in the last games to keep their hopes of moving on to the next round running as they only tallied a single point in their last three outings.
Despite the absence of its foreign-based members, the team has already started training as early as November 2 in preparation for their affair against the Yemenis on Thursday at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila.
Dooley explained he is doing what he can in their training sessions to keep his men fit and ready for their battle.
“I don’t have a team here yet, we will only have 15 players in training and tomorrow we will have 22 players by Tuesday. They will be as ready as they can be [for the match],” he added.
Veteran defender Rob Gier stressed that they should not take their lowly ranked adversary carelessly.
“Despite their current standing they are definitely not a team to be taken lightly, they pose a very real threat and if we are not focused and 100% professional then getting a positive result will be difficult.
“It is our final game of 2015 so it is important to us that we finish the year off well and put in a good, entertaining performance, with a positive result at the end,” Gier declared.
The 34-year-old center back clarified that they are now in a tough position but held that he believes that they can pull an upset and qualify for the next round.
“There is no doubt that things are now more difficult but football is a funny game and if there is any team that is capable of producing an upset then it is us,” he said.
For the Yemen game, Dooley will be missing the services of team captain Phil Younghusband due to the accumulation of yellow cards in the last matches and of defender Luke Woodland, who have recently signed with a new England-based club.
Consequently, the team’s roster will be boosted with the comeback of high scoring striker Javier Patiño and defenders Simone Rota, Gier and Juani Guirado, after sitting out the last games due to injuries.
The Azkals, housed in Group H of the Asian leg of the World Cup Qualifiers together with North Korea, Uzbekistan, Yemen and Bahrain, now currently hold the third spot with seven point on two wins, a draw and two losses.
After opening the group stage with two consecutive wins against Bahrain, 2-1, and Yemen, 2-0, the Azkals have slowed down in their subsequent three games as they keep their light shining in their hope to qualify for the third round.
The Filipinos suffered a big blow to their campaign following a loss against Uzbekistan, 1-5, at home before slightly bouncing back with a historic 0-0 draw with their group’s top seed North Korea in Pyongyang.
In their recent outing, the Philippines was handed their second loss in the competition in their away game versus the Bahrainis, 0-2, at the latter’s home turf in the city of Riffa.
The team is now closely trailing Bahrain, who are in the second spot with nine points in their record, and are set to play three more games until the end of the second round of the continental qualifiers for the world championship.
Only the two top teams from each group will qualify for the third round of games of the joint qualifiers while the remaining squads will still have to square off in the seeding round but only for the Asian Cup.