Azkals out to scale, conquer Asia’s Great Wall tonight
Olmin Leyba (The Philippine Star) - January 11, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Azkals gun for an upset against powerhouse China to keep their AFC Asian Cup knockout stage aspirations alive in tonight’s Group C fixture at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

On the heels of their acclaimed performance despite a 0-1 defeat to heavy favorite Korea Republic in their maiden Asian Cup outing last Monday, the fired-up Azkals target a milestone victory in the 5:30 p.m. encounter (9:30 p.m. in Manila) to boost their shot at the next round.

“It’s an extremely important game for us because if we lose and South Korea wins (against Kyrgyz Republic in the other game), it’s over for us,” said Phl coach Sven Goran Eriksson, who is pitted in a matchup with China counterpart Marcello Lippi, an old coaching rival from their days in the Italian League.

The Azkals draw confidence from making Korea, the 2015 runners-up and two-time titlists, toil in a David-versus-Goliath duel decided only by the 67th minute winner of Hwang Ui-jo, in the match against the Dragons, who actually struggled in a come-from-behind 2-1 verdict over Kyrgyz in their opening assignment.

“We played one of the best in this tournament (Korea) and we created chances against them so that gives us hope for the next two games that we can do something even better,” said Eriksson, whose wards, after the Chinese, will play fellow debutant Kyrgyz.

“Even after we lost (to Korea), the confidence went up. I spoke briefly with the players in the dressing room and the mood is good. We lost the game but they knew they did a good job,” he added.

Eriksson hopes to bank on his familiarity with the Chinese, having mentored Chinese Super League sides Shanghai and Guangzhou and China League One outfit Shenzhen. Forward Javi Patino also has inside info on how the Chinese play because of his past stint with Henan Jianye.

The Swede mentor though stressed the Pinoy booters need to rack up on the possession game this time after getting only an 18 percent rate against the Taeguk Warriors, doing this while maintaining a rock-solid defense.

“I want to see that we can dominate, keep the ball better against China than last game,” said Eriksson. “We’ll try to keep the ball better. Saying that, if we think that it’s going to be easier against China (compared to Korea), that’s dangerous because if you do not defend well against them, you will not win and I know some of the players that are good in counter-attacks.”

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