02 March 2012

Azkals May Miss Top Players

The feeling of joy and fulfilment of the national football team, popularly known as the Azkals, following their strong and inspiring stand against Southeast Asian Games champion Malaysia Wednesday night is being tempered by the uncertainty of having a diluted lineup in the coming AFC Challenge Cup.
Rave reviews poured in after the Azkals nearly upset the Malaysians who shockingly were in the throes of a monumental setback before a late goal saved the evening for the visitors in a game that ended at 1-all.

But the euphoria was soon clouded by the spectre of Azkals losing the game’s scorer Denis Wolf as well as the services of the highly efficient keeper Neil Etheridge.
Both are doubtful with Wolf reportedly having problems in securing his Philippine passport in time for the match beginning March 9 in Nepal, while Etheridge still needs permission from his English Club Fulham, where he is a substitute goalie, to play for the Philippines.
“At the moment, I'm not too sure if I'll be able to play in the Challenge Cup,” said Etheridge. “I have to talk to my coach back home and it's going to come down as to whether he will let me play.”
Besides these concerns, the Azkals are also unsure as to whether Stephan Schrock or Dennis Cagara will be allowed by their European clubs to play and there is also the knee of Chieffy Caligdong which is still hurting.
After missing the last three friendly matches at home including the memorable encounter with David Beckham and the MLS champion LA Galaxy last December, Etheridge was back in action and did a spectacular job of protecting the net.
The Azkal’s game against Malaysia was perhaps their best against a regional powerhouse. They pushed their opponents to fits of frustration with their defense and their attack was consistent and relentless.
It finally bore fruit with Wolf’s header in the 34th minute from a long corner pass hurled by Jason Sabio. The goal sent the 8,000 fans into a frenzy.
Their defense was also something to behold as they stopped scoring chances of the Malaysians who are far and away the more experienced team.
Sabio and Juan Luis Guirado were able to neutralize striker Safee Sali and Wan Zack Haikal Wan Nor and Mohd Zaquan Adha Abd Radzak.
But the determined Malaysians finally found a hole when substitute Ahmad Shakir Mohd Ali hit the equalizer in extra time to salvage a draw.
Malaysian mentor K. Rajagopal believes that the Azkals could make an impression against North Korea, India and Tajikistan in the group stage.




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