Azkals battle dangerous Indonesia

The Philippine men’s national under-22 football team gets an early acid test today as it faces Indonesia to open its campaign in the 32nd Southeast Asian Games at the Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh.

Kickoff is at 5 p.m. (Manila time) with the Azkals going head-to-head with the Garuda as they seek to enter the semifinal of the tournament.

Some sports like football will get an early start even though the opening ceremony will be held on 5 May.

Despite dropping a 2-0 loss to Cambodian club Visakha FC last Wednesday, head coach Rob Gier said he is still happy with the team’s progress leading up to the match against last year’s SEA Games bronze medalist.

With the Philippines grouped with Indonesia, Myanmar, Timor Leste and host country Cambodia, the former Azkals team captain likes the team’s chances of making it to the next round.

“They’ve bought into everything I’ve tried to do. They’ve worked incredibly hard, and they’ve given me everything, so I couldn’t be more pleased,” Gier said.

“I think it’s a good group. If we’d asked for a draw, it would probably have been that type of draw. The fixtures are nicely spread out.”

“That doesn’t go to say that teams in our group are gonna be easy by any means, but I think if we could have picked a group to be in, we would have picked that one.”

The core of the national team will be coming from the Azkals Development Team with the likes of Pocholo Bugas and Oliver Biaz leading the charge.

Since joining the SEA Games in 1977, the Philippines hasn’t won a medal in men’s football and the closest it got to the podium was in 1991 when Singapore defeated the Filipinos 2-0 in the bronze medal match.

In nine meetings in the biennial meet, Tim Garuda won eight of those encounters with the Philippines and only settled for a draw once back in 1977.

In a report by CNN Indonesia last 25 May, Football Association of Indonesia executive committee member Arya Sinulingga said Tim Garuda will blow past the Azkals with ease.

“Against the Philippines, Indonesia’s chances of winning are very big because we know the Philippines are not very strong in football. Maybe they are strong in basketball but not in football,” Sinulingga said

Philippine Football Federation general secretary Ed Gastanes refuses to agree as he told Daily Tribune that the Azkals will be playing every game as if it is a championship match.

“You have to play with the card they have dealt to you. It doesn’t matter because every game is important,” Gastanes said in a phone conversation.

“It’s a cup competition. Every game there is like a final game.”

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