Bring it on, Azkals!

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ROMY P. MARIÑAS

It’s make or break day–November 14—for the Philippine Azkals.

Members of the Philippine national football team and their coach, Thomas Dooley, are in Nepal at this writing (Tuesday afternoon) to try to nail an outright slot in the 2019 Asian Cup.

To succeed in that mission, the Azkals will have to beat the home team.

A draw against Nepal would drop Dooley’s boys to second place in the four-team Group F, which the Azkals currently lead with 8 points, followed by Tajikistan and Yemen, with 6 points each, and winless Nepal.

Finishing runner-up would still enable the visitors to capture one of two spots in the Asian Cup two years from now in the United Emirates, by itself a feat that would send the country’s national team for the first time to the continent’s premier football tournament that is held every four years.

Eventually topping Group F is not a tall order for the Philippine Azkals, despite the reported absence because of injuries of mainstays Javier Patino, Amani Aguinaldo, Manny Ott and Luke Woodland.

For one, in their home game last March 28 at Manila’s Rizal Memorial Football Stadium that your Free Kicker watched, the Filipinos beat the Nepalis, 4-1, on a brace from Phil Younghusband and a goal each from Iain Ramsay and Patino.

For another, the Azkals are evidently more experienced than the Gorkhalis, as members of Nepal’s national football team are popularly called, having, for example reached the semifinals of the Suzuki Cup twice in 2010 and 2012 and the second round of qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Still, for another, Dooley’s wards are as of this month ranked 116th by FIFA and Nepal, 176th.

The latest ranking makes the Philippine Azkals the No. 1 football team in Southeast Asia, ahead of powerhouse Thailand (138th).

The weather in Nepal should bother the Azkals but, we believe, not enough for them to freeze during the game at Kathmandu at 2:15 p.m. (4:15 p.m., Manila time).

Younghusband and company, with a victory to punch that ticket to the UAE, will bring the Philippine national football team to the Middle East in 2019 to battle the likes of Australia (the defending champion).

(We made this prediction at 2:52 p.m., Tuesday, November 14.)

One more cheerer would not hurt the cause of the Azkals and the Philippines, would it?

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