The Philippine Azkals barely escaped the gutsy Fiji squad 3-2 in a friendly game on Thursday night at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in Manila. Azkals coach Thomas Dooley said that the result is a good gauge of his wards’ readiness for their all-important match against Tajikistan in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup 2019 qualifiers on March 27.
“It was a good training session for us. We tried something out. We always want to play out of the back even if we are under pressure. We want to see the players dealing with it. If they can deal with it now, they might deal with it next time against Tajikistan,” said Dooley.
The Azkals erected a three-goal lead courtesy of captain Phil Younghusband (29th minute), Pika Minegishi (52nd) and Kevin Ingreso (61st) then survived a late fightback by Christophe Gamel’s Bula Boys.
Dooley, however, lamented his wards’ complacency in the endgame that led to two conceded goals.
“The last 15 minutes was maybe one of the worst that I have seen. You have to fight until the referee whistles,” he said.
Dooley also pointed out the Filipino booters’ poor transition defense, which may prove costly in their encounter against the 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 the American World Cup veteran.
“They (Tajikistan) won’t just park the bus. They’ll try to play it more open. But the thing is, like Misagh (Bahadoran) was saying, you have to play until the last minute,” he added.
Fiji’s late goals were courtesy of Ame Votoniu (74th) and Roy Krishna (penalty kick conversion on the 80th).
Longtime star Younghusband though downplayed the perceived mediocre performance of his teammates late in the game.
“We had six substitutions. When you make that many substitutions, it can disrupt the flow of the game,” said Younghusband.
“This game, we pressed high and quite intense so we left more gaps. But I think in the game on the 27th, we won’t be pressing as high. We’ll be a lot tighter and set back a bit,” he added.
Younghusband, who scored his 49th international goal via a penalty spot, was thrilled of the chance to breach the 50-goal mark in the Philippines’ biggest game yet in history.
The veteran striker, who has the most caps at 96, wanted to stay fixed at the bigger picture.
“I hope I score in the next game. But as I’ve said, whether it comes in the next game or in ten games time, as long as we’re in the Asian Cup, for me that’s the big goal for the team and for Philippine football.”
Younghusband and company have five days left to prepare for Tuesday’s historic match. Dooley said the team would conduct two or three more training sessions this weekend and a one-hour session on Monday.
“Tomorrow (Friday), we’ll recover. The next day, we have to think about the big game on Tuesday because it’s all or nothing really,” said Younghusband. We expect them (Tajikistan) to be very aggressive and coming out a hundred percent. It’s important that we have the right preparation.”
Younghusband is calling out for support for the Azkals’ bid to secure its maiden appearance in the Asian Cup. A draw will be enough for the national team to earn that ticket.
“We need the fans, we need Filipinos to come, watch us and give us the adrenaline and extra confidence needed to get the result on Tuesday.”