MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Azkals are set to try once more for a slot in the prestigious FIFA World Cup when they tangle with tormentor Bahrain in their first match for the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers on Thursday night (June 11) at the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bulacan.
Manager Dan Palami and Head coach Thomas Dooley are raring to field in what people have said to be the strongest lineup of the Men’s National Team in recent history. Gone are the days when the Azkals gambled for long balls and home run plays which made them susceptible to incredibly fast and deadly counters from the opposite side. The process has been long and arduous for Dooley who had to overhaul the system and transform the Azkals into a team that relies more on short passing and overlapping attacks to unlock defenses.
Bolstering the team in this year’s edition of the qualifiers are returnees Stephan Cabizares-Schrock, who has been a solid attacking midfielder for the team even before his absence, and keeper Neil Dula-Ethridge, who was impressive in a number of his appearances on goal. But the real cause of excitement from even those inside Philippine Footbol Federation (PFF) are four key players, three of which might end up as the new faces of the team, that strengthens a widely-observed problem area for the Azkals: the midfield.
Young booters which include Kevin Langbhen-Ingreso, who grew up in Germany, has decided to don the colors of the country along with Iain Irinco-Ramsay and Luke Zantua-Woodland strengthens the national side’s midfield along with holdovers Simone Mondiali-Rota, Patrick Alcala-Reichelt, Manny Gelito-Ott, Martin Pineda-Steuble, and Schrock. While the aforementioned holdovers figure to get a chunk of field time, Ingreso, Ramsay and Woodland are ready to show what top-notch international football competition left PFF officials salivating for their services.
People are especially high on the Germany-based kid for playing a position that the side sorely lacks: the central defensive midfielder who is the link between the offense and defense of football. Ingreso can play that and even slide back to center back and anchor the wall in front of Ethridge with Rob Dazo-Gier, Juani Aldeguer-Guirado and former J-League Youth defender, Daisuke Caumanday-Sato.
Completing the lineup will be Phil Placer-Younghusband, Fil-Spanish striker Javier Lachica-Patino, who takes over from the bull-strong Angel Aldeguer-Guirado, and attacking midfielder Mark Hartmann in the Azkals forward line. The duo are the team’s only forwards and so much rests on their boots to punish the Bahrain defense in their June 11 date.
The road ahead will be a bumpy one for the Azkals and they need the support of the Filipino people more than ever as they try to make a mark in the most-popular sport of the planet. It is time to show that #KayaNatinTo as long as everybody does their part for the boys who are raring to get back at Bahrian for a tightly-contested loss March of 2014.
#WeBelieve Azkals. It’s time to score that breakthrough.