By Olmin Leyba
MANILA, Philippines - A fired-up Philippine Azkals go all out to pull the rug from under fancied North Korea tonight at the close of second-round action in the joint qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and 2019 AFC Asian Cup at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
The Azkals enter the 8 p.m. duel pumped up and determined to dish out a winning performance, drawing confidence from their fighting 0-1 loss to powerhouse Uzbekistan in faraway Tashkent, where they played with 10 men from the 10th minute onwards last Thursday.
“Because of the fight last week against Uzbekistan, I think the players are ready for the game tomorrow (tonight),” said Phl coach Thomas Dooley. “They know what it takes to fight against those big teams above us and from our practices, it looks like the players are focused.”
The Azkals also get confidence boost from the fact they were the only ones in Group H whom the Chollima have never beaten. The first time they faced off over in Pyongyang, the Pinoy booters fought the home side to a scoreless draw.
“In my opinion, this is a game we can win if everybody shows up tomorrow and we’re good enough to play football against them. We have to show that in the beginning so they’ll have a little bit more respect for us. I think anything’s possible,” said Dooley.
Phl XI sits at fourth in the group with seven points behind Uzbekistan’s 18, North Korea’s 16 and Bahrain’s nine. Although out of the World Cup already, the Azkals can progress to the third round of the Asian Cup qualifiers outright by upstaging the two-time World Cup campaigners Chollima.
“It’s an important game for us if we want to go to the next round of the Asian Cup. We also want to end the tournament (second round) with a victory,” said Dooley, whose team welcomes back Misagh Bahadoran and Manny Ott back after the duo served their suspension in the Uzbekistan outing.
The match is equally as important for North Korea, which aims to top the group and advance to the final round of the Asian Cup.