Asian Football Confederation (AFC) qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia resumes on September 8, 2015 as the Philippine Men’s National Football team, popularly known as the Azkals, take on Uzbekistan in the Philippine Arena in Bulacan.
World Cup qualification games for countries in Asia has taken another purpose as they have been merged to serve as qualifiers for the upcoming 2019 AFC Asian Cup which shall be held in the United Arab Emirates. Currently in the second qualification round, forty countries are divided into eight groups of five except for Group F due to Indonesia’s disqualification. The top team of each group along with the four best second placers advance to the third qualification round for the 2018 World Cup and books a ticket for the 2019 Asian Cup. The other second placers would have to go through another qualifying round to enter the 2019 Asian Cup.
As of this writing, the Azkals are placed second in Group H with six points. The Azkals are behind group toppers North Korea by three points while above their upcoming opponents Uzbekistan by the same amount.
For Azkals coach Thomas Dooley, there are two options: the first is two win the game and gain three massive points and the second is to push on to be one of the four best second placers in case of a defeat. “So the one thing is, like I said our goal is to finish in the best four second places to qualify for the Asian Cup. For the next round this is something we can get to closer if we beat Uzbekistan. Like I said, we have the most difficult group” said Dooley.
Dooley has no problem with his men playing as the underdogs. He said that being and knowing you are the favorites to win can go against you unlike being the underdog. “You are the underdog then you will always be more motivated or let’s say not falling into a situation where you underestimate another team.” Furthermore, he said that hard work and Uzbekistan having an off day may turn the tide for the Azkals. “That’s kind of the motivation we have.”
Uzbekistan (76) is currently ranked 49 places above the Philippines (125) in the latest FIFA World Rankings. Dooley admits that Uzbekistan have the better players. “This team does everything better. Their players move the ball faster. They are physically stronger. They make lesser mistakes. Passing is more accurate than the other team. Stamina is better and they prepare better.” However, what impressed Dooley the most was the logistics of how Uzbekistan arrived on Philippine soil. Dooley stated that the higher level a team plays, the more attention to detail is afforded to. According to him, everything at this level is scientific which can be personified of how the team was flown in. Dooley said, “They didn’t fly 28 hours like everybody else has to do. They chartered a flight and came direct over here because they know how difficult it is to be in the plane for so many hours and waiting in airports then coming over here being stressed out and tired. They don’t want to do that. They know how important this game is. They don’t wanna waste energy, any time, anything that could cost the game so that’s why they hired the plane.”
”Everything they do is a little bit more professional that the other teams we play against and every single player is more experienced, better, faster player, has more knowledge of the game. All that stuff. It’s just better”, concluded Dooley.
Coming into the game, Dooley feels that goal difference will be a big factor in determining the best four second placers. Noting the lopsided scorelines which have occurred in some of the qualifying games the past week, he believes that a good goal difference can count as an extra point. Nevertheless, the man who had 81 caps for the USA is still aiming for three points. “That’s why we’ll need to collect as much points as we can and three points at home against Uzbekistan would be amazing.”
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