Men’s national football team head coach Thomas Dooley is leaving nothing to chance though the Philippines will be facing a lower-ranked Fiji in an international friendly today at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in Manila.
Dooley said the No. 122 Azkals couldn’t take the No. 168 Bula Boys lightly in their 7:30 p.m. match, which serves as a tuneup for their campaign in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup 2019 qualifiers on March 27.
“In football, anything can happen. We should be dominating the game but we cannot underestimate the opponent. We have got to have respect for them,” said Dooley.
Longtime Azkals stalwart and captain Phil Younghusband echoed his mentor’s caution.
“We approach every game the same. The rankings is not a true indication of where a team is,” said Younghusband, who is eyeing to breach the 50-goal mark in his 96th cap for the national squad.
Fiji coach Christophe Gamel vowed to give the host a good fight.
“It’s our responsibility to present a good show,” said Gamel. “Fiji is a small country but that doesn’t mean that soccer is small there.”
“They (Philippine Azkals) are above us but we will play this game with all our heart,” he added.
For this friendly, Dooley called 23 players to join the lineup, which include returning striker Javier Patiño (formerly Henan Jianye) and new goalkeeper Michael Falkesgaard (Bangkok United). Falkesgaard was tapped to temporarily replace Neil Etheridge.
Joining them are mainstays Phil and James Younghusband along with Dennis Villanueva, Simone Rota, Dylan de Bruycker and Nicholas O’Donnell of Davao Aguilas FC; Jeffrey Christiaens, Carli De Murga, Kevin Ingreso, Manny and Mike Ott, Sean Kane, Junior Muñoz and Patrick Reichelt of Ceres Negros FC; Patrick Deyto and Paul Mulders of Global Cebu FC; and Jhan Melliza of Stallion Laguna FC.
Completing the roster are overseas-based booters Misagh Bahadoran (Perak FA), Iain Ramsay (Felda United), Hikaru Minegishi (Pattaya United) and Daisuke Sato (Sepsi Sfântu Gheorghe).
Dooley stressed that the purpose of the FIFA-sanctioned friendly is mainly to prepare for their all-important game against the No. 124 Tajikistan in the Asian Cup qualifying stage.
“Our focus is really Tajikistan. There’s no pressure on the team that we have to win against Fiji. It’s a preparation against Tajikistan,” he reiterated.
The Azkals need at least draw against the Central Asian powerhouse to secure its maiden Asian Cup appearance.