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Azkals keen to revive Qualifiers campaign against struggling Yemen



The Philippines’ men’s national football team, simply known as the Azkals, are raring to get back on track in the 2018 FIFA World Cup/2019 AFC Asian Cup joint Qualifiers. The Filipinos are set to host Yemen on Thursday evening at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium, hoping to clinch important three points following an array of disappointing results.

The Filipinos have only grabbed a point out of the last nine available, with huge setbacks against Uzbekistan and Bahrain sandwiching a monumental draw away to North Korea. The recent three-game stretch has hampered the Azkals, whose recent results contrast a start in which they won two games. One of those early victories came against Yemen, the team the Philippines have next on schedule. The score was 2-0 for the Azkals, who pounced late in the second half with strikes by Misagh Bahadoran and Iain Ramsay. A quick recall of that match suggests that the Azkals dominated the play at the neutral venue at Doha, with the Arab side having a few moments of their own.

Many Azkals fans might find delight in facing Yemen and are perhaps expectant of another win. The upcoming foes bear an unenviable record of zero wins, zero draws, and five losses so far in the second round of their campaign. To make matters worse for the Yemenis, they have yet to find a single goal in their last six joint Qualifiers matches. The last time they scored was during a 3-1 win against Pakistan in the first leg of the opening round of the Qualifiers, which took place eight months ago. If they are to pose a threat to the Filipinos, they would need to find that scoring touch soon.

Should they not score, however, they can still frustrate their Southeast Asian counterparts by keeping a clean sheet to get at least a point out of it.  The Yemenis have been decent in defense, holding current group favorites North Korea (0-3 score was due to forfeiture) and Uzbekistan to single-goal wins. It was against the Azkals and neighbors Bahrain where they lost their bearings and capitulated two and four-goal defeats respectively. Entering the match with nothing to lose, Yemen might find the groove to pull an upset against the dream-chasing Azkals.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Azkals keen to revive Qualifiers campaign against struggling Yemen

On the other end, the Azkals know that for them to get to as far as they want to in this campaign, there is no more room for mistakes. The third-placed Philippines sit just a point above Bahrain and are two points behind second-placed Uzbekistan. With three games to go, the Filipinos can still keep the hopes of advancing to the next round alive by defeating winless Yemen at home. On paper, it looks to be a comfortable second-round match for the Azkals, but they should be know they cannot afford any complacency given the circumstances.

Looking at the 23-man lineup fielded by Thomas Dooley, a notable addition is Javier Patino. The striker is back after missing the exhausting five-day trip from Pyongyang to Riffa, which saw the Azkals collect just a point without any goals to their names. His return will boost the firepower up front, as he is expected to take the field alongside the likes of Stephan Schrock, Ramsay, and Bahadoran. In defense, Dooley will have plenty of options. The German-American coach has a string of fine defenders to choose from now that Simone Rota has recovered from injury. Daisuke Sato and Jerry Lucena have looked comfortable in their wingback roles, while goalkeeping options have never been a problem. Phil Younghusband, suspended after accumulating yellow cards, will be missed – but not as much as the depth of the squad is stacked in the middle of the park.

The prediction is a walk-in-the-park affair for the Philippines, who will probably repeat the result of five months ago in Doha. However pleasing that is to assume for Azkals fans, the match starts at 0:0 and there are 90 minutes to be played and won. Presented with a perfect opportunity to regain their footing on the road to Russia and UAE, the Azkals will be eager to reinstate belief by getting the job done against an opponent they cannot afford to underestimate.

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