BANGKOK – After frustrating an old nemesis the second time around, a fired up Philippine Azkals tackle a regular tormentor – Myanmar – intent on nailing another win and a second straight semifinal stint in the AFF Suzuki Cup here.
Riding high from an ego-boosting 1-0 victory over 2008 titlist Vietnam, the Azkals (three points on 1-0-1) seek to extract the full point from Myanmar (one point on 0-1-1) in tonight’s Group A hostilities to join host and early qualifier Thailand (six points on 2-0-0) in the Final Four.
The match is set at 8:20 p.m. (9:20 p.m. in Manila) at the Supachalasai Stadium, simultaneous with the duel between the War Elephants and embattled Vietnam (one point on 0-1-1) over at the Rajamangala Stadium.
“The victory over Vietnam puts us in a good position. It is in our own hands whether we proceed to the next round or not. The situation within the group is that every team still has a chance to go through.
“So we should put ourselves in a winning mode and go for a win. So that everything is safe and we don’t have to depend on the result of the other teams,” said Azkals coach Michael Weiss.
A triumph will give the Azkals a hassle-free ride to their second straight semis, regardless of the outcome of the Thailand-Vietnam fixture. A draw, however, could complicate matters and could even spell Phl XI’s doom, especially if Vietnam goes on to beat Thailand in the other game. A setback will mean game over.
Qualifier Myanmar, which forced Vietnam into a 1-1 draw at the start of hostilities then yielded a 0-4 defeat to the Thais, has been a tough nut to crack for Phl XI. Since 1995, the Pinoy booters have fallen to Myanmar six times, losing by as many as five goals (1-6) in 2002, although they’ve managed to score a pair of scoreless draws and a 1-1 standoff in their last three encounters.
“I’ve always liked the style of Myanmar. It is interesting what they have achieved. They are always a serious opponent,” said Weiss, who had tackled Myanmar twice as Phl tactician, in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers in 2011 in Yangon and in the SEAG featuring the Under-23 side.
“We managed to have a draw on late equalizer from the home side when we played them in the (Yangon) Challenge Cup qualifiers. They’ve also brought many young players from the SEA Games, we also played them there and we lost to them, 5-0. That showed we have to take this opponent very seriously,” said Weiss.
But the German mentor feels he has Myanmar all figured out now.
“Everybody knows that Myanmar is a very strong counter-attacking side. Well-disciplined with their two lines: at midfield and close to the goal, they defend very, very well. But for tomorrow that will not help them. They have to loosen up this strictly defensive mode and go for an offensive action. So it will be interesting to see how they can switch from their normal style of play in tomorrow’s match,” he said.
“But we know our opponent very, very well. We’ve done our homework...We will know what to do and be successful tomorrow,” he added.
One particular cause of concern for the Azkals’ defenders will be striker Kyi Lin, who delivered the goal when Myanmar held Vietnam to a 1-1 draw.
Weiss described the young gun as a fantastic player, whom his backline of Rob Gier, Juani Guirado, Dennis Cagara and Carli de Murga, expected to start vice the injured Ray Jonsson, should contain.
“It would not be wise to take him man to man. A good player, fantastic player. We need double teams to get him out of dangerous positions. Of course, we will not give the depth for his runs. We know that he is very fast player. We have scouted him and know his strengths. But it’s not only him but also the others,” said Weiss.