Azkals coach Thomas Dooley expressed optimism with regards to the Philippines’ chances of registering a victory against the higher-seeded Bahrain team in tomorrow evening’s 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers match set to be played at the Philippine Sports Stadium.
“I’m always optimistic. In football, anything can happen. You just have to believe and work hard for it,” said Dooley briefly after the pre-match press conference held at the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel in Mandaluyong City. Only 12 teams will advance to the next round of the qualifying round and the Azkals have their sights on one of those seats that will also guarantee participation in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. The first step towards that objective is getting a positive result against Bahrain, something that is not far-fetched according to the 53-year-old mentor. “We can beat Bahrain at home. There’s no question about that. If we can play football with that the skill that we have, I think we can have a good fight against Bahrain and we can beat Bahrain—that’s what we want to do,” he elaborated.
All members of the 23-man lineup started training together just two days prior to their game against Bahrain but Dooley does not see the short time of preparation as a major problem. He observed that the team has been acquainting themselves with each other well both on and off the field in order to be on the same page once the campaign officially begins. “We haven’t trained that much altogether. On the other hand, the players, when they came in, play in a professional level. What’s important is that they are very welcome in the team and that they have a good relationship between each other,” Dooley emphasized. Due to personal and club commitments, Stephen Palla and Javier Patiño arrived earlier this week to make it in time for the Azkals’ WCQ opener at home. The other foreign-based players, meanwhile, have been working together with the United Football League players selected in the first two days of training sessions which began last week.
The Filipinos already played against Bahrain in two international friendlies hosted by the Gulf side. The first one ended in a goalless draw while Bahrain won in the most recent game, played in March of this year, with a slim 1-0 margin against the Philippine contingent who missed almost half of the current roster’s members. Despite history favoring the Bahrainis, the Azkals are liking their chances of taking a maiden victory over their Middle Eastern rivals. Dooley thinks the desire to win is reflected in the team’s approach to the massive encounter. “They know how important it is to play together, play hard, and prepare for those games. I’m optimistic that the team will function together,” he closed out.