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Azkals brace for Maldives and Uzbekistan challenges in September

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As international football resumes on the opening week of next month, the Philippines men’s national football team will be hosting two formidable sides in their respective region. The Azkals, their nickname, will meet the Maldives in a friendly on September 3 before welcoming Uzbekistan for the joint FIFA World Cup/AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers five days later.

The first match sets up a mouthwatering clash between the two semifinalists of the AFC Challenge Cup’s last ever edition. The Philippines have won one and lost one against the Maldives, who fell the latest in an extra time loss more than a year ago. Both teams are on bye in their respective second round groups on September’s initial Thursday night, making the third meeting between two sides possible. Prior to Maldives’ approval, the Philippine Football Federation made two publicized moves to invite neighbors Thailand and Vietnam. However, the two Southeast Asian sides declined the request, which forced the Philippine football officials to look beyond the region.

Both the Philippines and the Maldives will look to make the most out of the exhibition match with footballing giants looming on their horizon. The Maldives will be making a demanding trip to the Philippines around a week before clashing with China, who seem to have found their feet again in Asian football. Meanwhile, the Azkals are set to battle Uzbekistan, who have just narrowly missed out in qualifying for the past few FIFA World Cups.

The Azkals will not be pushovers but their opponents have seemingly become more dangerous. Uzbekistan have only played one game in the qualifiers, a painful 4-2 defeat suffered at Pyongyang against North Korea. Wounded, the Central Asians are eager to bounce back by claiming the Azkals’ scalp. Th home side will enter the match beaming with a bit of confidence after producing two important wins in their first two Group G games. The Philippines have yet to face Uzbekistan in any senior men’s international football match, making the September 8 clash the inaugural and surely not the last between the two teams.

The Maldives will be playing against the Philippines at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium. Uzbekistan, on the other hand, will strut their skills against the Azkals at the Philippine Sports Stadium 32 kilometers north of where the South Asians will face the same position. — LGT

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