Azkals eye finals spot

AFTER a history-clinching game against Tajikistan, the Philippine national team is off to set a record anew as it takes on Turkmenistan in the semifinal round of the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup in Nepal.

This is the Philippines’ first semifinal entry in the tournament, and its first semifinal stint since making the final four of the Suzuki Cup in 2010.

Though Turkmenistan is ranked 10 places lower than the Philippines in the Fifa rankings, it is still the favorite going into the match as it topped Group A with seven points on two wins and a draw.

Turkmenistan beat Maldives, 3-1, drew Palestine, 0-0, and blanked Nepal, 3-0. On the other hand, the Philippines lost to defending champion North Korea, 2-0, and beat former champions India, 2-0, and Tajikistan, 2-1.

Aside from facing a team that has yet to drop a match, the Philippines will be playing sans striker Angel Guirado and James Younghusband, who both earned a second yellow card against Tajikistan and are suspended for today’s matches.
Team manager Dan Palami said they were still deliberating  on who to field for the two suspended players.

“Offhand, we have (Jason) de Jong, (Marwin) Angeles, Misagh (Bahadoran) and Lex (Moy) as potentials,” Palami told Sun.Star Cebu yesterday.

Since scoring against Icheon City in a friendly last January, Angeles has proven to be a welcome addition to the senior team and has seen regular action, while Bahadoran and Moy were fielded by coach Michael Weiss in the team’s group stage matches.

The defense is expected to be still anchored on Jason Sabio, Roy Jonsson, who spent his first eight years in Liloan, Rob Gier and Carli de Murga, while Phil Younghusband will again lead the Philippines attack against a defense that only yielded one goal in three matches.

If the Azkals win, they will advance to their first ever finals stint against the winner of the Palestine vs. North Korea match. A loss will get them a play-off for third place against the loser of the other semis. 


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