By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE PHILIPPINE national men’s football team takes on Nepal today in a key AFC Asian Cup qualifying game with an eye on a win that would assure it a spot in the prestigious regional tournament in 2019.
Currently at the top spot of Group F in qualification play with a record of two wins and two draws and eight points, the “Azkals,” as the Philippine team is known, go for the victory in their match at the ANFA Complex in Kathmandu at 4:15 p.m. (Manila time) to barge their way into the main Asian Cup draw with still a game to spare.
As per tournament format, the top two teams in each of the six groups in the third round of qualification advance, joining 12 others teams which have already qualified previously.
The match marks the second time that the two teams will face each other in this stage of the competition.
Back in March, the Philippines defeated Nepal (0-1-3), 4-1, to set its campaign to a good start.
James Younghusband scored a brace in said game with Iain Ramsay and Javier Patino adding a goal each.
For Nepal it was substitute Bishal Rai who provided the lone goal in the match played at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium on March 28.
Against the Nepalese side today, a combination of old and new faces, mostly coming from the Philippines Football League, were called up to banner the country’s campaign.
The players are Marwin Angeles (Kaya FC Makati), Fitch Arboleda (Stallion Laguna FC), Misagh Bahadoran (Global Cebu FC), Dylan De Bruycker (Davao Aguilas FC), Carlos de Murga (Ceres Negros FC), Patrick Deyto (Global Cebu FC), Curt Dizon (FC Meralco Manila), Joshua Dutosme (Ceres Negros FC), Neil Etheridge (Cardiff City FC), Kevin Ingreso (Ceres Negros FC), Sean Patrick Kane (JPV Marikina FC) and Hikaru Minegishi (Global Cebu FC).
Also part of the team are Paul Mulders (Global Cebu FC), Jim Junior Muñoz (Ceres Negros FC), Nicholas O’Donnell (Davao Aguilas FC), Mike Ott (Angthong United), Ramsay (Ceres Negros FC), Simone Rota (Davao Aguilas FC), Paolo Salenga (Global Cebu FC), Daisuke Sato (AC Horsens), Dennis Villanueva (Global Cebu FC), James and Phil Younghusband (Davao Aguilas FC).
Head coach is still Thomas Dooley, assisted by Stefano Marsella.
Entering the match, the Azkals are coming off a 1-1 draw with currently second-running Yemen (1-3-0) on Oct. 10.
Mr. Ott scored in the 89th minute of the contest to negate an earlier goal by the home team, leaving the Yemeni side stunned.
Mr. Dooley said they hope “to do better” in today’s game to secure the groundbreaking spot in the AFC Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates just as they are mindful not to be too affected of the high altitude of Nepal.
On the part of host Nepal, it is coming off a 3-0 drubbing in the hands of Tajikistan, which is currently joint second in the group with 2-0-2 record and six points. It hopes to salvage some pride in front of its home fans.
In the event Nepal successfully defeats or forces the Azkals to a draw, the latter must win their final home game in March next year against Tajikistan to advance.
Also in a key game today are Tajikistan and Yemen, which are jousting for the other top spot in Group F. They play in Hisor.
The Azkals-Nepal match will be aired live over ABS-CBN S+A.