The Philippine Azkals make their return on home turf when they face Bahrain in a FIFA international friendly tonight at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
The Azkals are currently in the middle of their preparation for the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup. The Suzuki Cup is South East Asia’s showpiece event held every two years. The Philippines will host the tournament this coming November. However they are faced with tough opposition as defending champions Thailand, four-time champions Singapore, and Indonesia are grouped with the Azkals for the tournament.
The friendly against Bahrain is another step in the Azkals’ preparation for the November tournament. The Azkals were last together in September when they shocked higher-ranked Kyrgyzstan, 2-1, in Bishkek.
This will be the Azkals first game back at Rizal Memorial Stadium after seven months. Their last game at the stadium was the 3-2 win over North Korea last March in the World Cup Qualifiers.
The match also provides vital ranking points for the Philippines. Currently, the Azkals are ranked 125th in the FIFA rankings and are the number one ranked team in South East Asia. A win against Bahrain will give the Azkals a boost in the next rankings.
However, the squad is a concern for the Azkals heading to the Suzuki Cup. Philippines number one Neil Etheridge was not called up to the squad. The Suzuki Cup, unlike the World Cup Qualifiers and friendly matches does not fall under the FIFA international match window making it difficult the players based overseas to join the national team.
Azkals coach Thomas Dooley is set to rely on the following players he called up to the squad: Amani Aguinaldo, Fitch Arboleda, Paolo Bugas, Misagh Bahadoran, Kenshiro Daniels, Dominic Del Rosario, Patrick Deyto, Daniel Gadia, Simon Greatwich, Kevin Ingreso, Roland Muller, Junior Munoz, Nick O’Donnell, Manny Ott, Mike Ott, Iain Ramsay, Stephan Schrock, Martin Steuble, Dennis Villanueva, Luke Woodland, James Younghusband, and Phil Younghusband.
“We have a lot of players that can fill the void,” said Dooley. “We don’t want to lose, defeating Bahrain will help us in our self confidence.”
The Azkals’ match against Bahrain kicks off at 8:00 PM!