The international break is upon us and we’ll have another chance to witness what the Philippine Azkals can do to progress to the next stages of the joint 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualification as they face the Maldives in Male.
Coming off of their strong performance against a much higher-ranked China PR which resulted into a scoreless draw at the Panaad Parks and Stadium, the Philippine Azkals are now in Male to kick-off their two games on the road as they take on the Maldives on the 14th of November at the Rasmee Dhandu Stadium before flying to Dubai to face Syria at the Al Maktoum Stadium on the 19th of November.
What are we waiting for? Let’s head in straight to the three keys to victory for the Azkals against the Maldives!
1) Rely on Scott Cooper’s system
With the partnership between Goran Milejovic and Scott Cooper, the Azkals were able to fend off the attack from China in their last match at home but come Wednesday, it will be Cooper at the helm as Milejovic is not part of the coaching staff due to a medical condition.
We’ve already seen the system of Cooper at work in their match against South Korea last January in the country’s maiden stint in the AFC Asian Cup where we used a 3-5-2 formation which held the mighty Taeguk Warriors to a scoreless draw until the 60th minute of that match.
Many will say that it was the tactics of Sven-Goran Eriksson but if you check the tactics they’ve used against Syria, it was evident that Cooper’s influence is there. We might’ve lost 5-2 on that game but nevertheless, it worked wonders as well.
Heading into this match against the Maldives, the Azkals need to be wary of the thread that the home side can bring to the table. In their match against Syria, they only held the ranked 83 in the world to just two goals and even scored one against the opposition.
Ali Ashfaq, who featured in the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup semifinals against the Azkals, scored from the penalty spot against Syria to give them quite a boost heading into a tough match against an upgraded Philippines side.
The only option for the Azkals in this match is getting out of Male with maximum points to keep their hopes alive in progressing to the third round of the qualifiers as they will have a daunting task ahead of them against Syria.
The 23-man squad heading into this qualifying matches look similar to what they had against China at home. However, Cooper needs to consider the fatigue of the key players like Neil Etheridge who’s flying in straight from his English Championship stint with Cardiff City FC, Carli De Murga, Mike Ott, OJ Porteria and team captain Stephan Schröck, who all came in after a thrilling semi-finals match against Stallion Laguna FC in the 2019 Copa Paulino Alcantara.
The best thing that could happen for the Azkals in this match is to feature the likes of Justin Baas and Yrick Gallantes who performed quite well in their away match against Guam.
2) Give the youth some tough experience
Talking about the flexibility of this squad, it’s a mix of young and experienced players. In this upcoming match against the Maldives, coach Cooper can opt to infuse some young blood into the starting line-up to give them some tough first-team experience to build up their confidence and to give them their real test.
Not only it will give Cooper an idea of things to come for the national team, but also it will make us quite unpredictable in this game as most likely, the Maldives have already reviewed our match against China and the players we used in it.
Gallantes can give us the boost just like how Schröcky does it as he has shown almost his full potential in the Philippines U-22 stint in the Copa Paulino Alcantara as part of their preparation for the upcoming 2019 SEA Games.
Pairing him up with John-Patrick Strauss in the middle might be a little off but it could work wonders for the Azkals given the vision these two players have.
3) Bolster the attack and get a better goal difference
There’s no better time to score lots and lots of goal than their upcoming fixture against the Maldives. The Azkals have the personnel to do this and they should if they want a fighting chance for their passage to the next round.
As it stands, the Philippines are in third place in group A with four points in the bag while Syria’s still unscathed with nine points and +8 in goal difference.
The Philippines and the Maldives will be the first ones to battle in group A before Syria and China will square off at a later time (10 PM PHT kick-off). If the Azkals will win big over the Maldivians ahead of the Syria-China match, we could see the Azkals go up in second place and possibly stay there if Syria wins big over the mighty dragons.
With Curt Dizon making it back to the squad after quite a good spell with Chonburi FC, he might be seen pairing upfront with Patrick Reichelt to provide the pace that we need against quite an ageing defensive line for the Maldives with an average age of 28 years old.
Mark Hartmann’s strike from distance could be a key factor as well for the Azkals given the power that he has in his shot. OJ Porteria’s flashy style of play could see the Filipinos create some magic and to possibly score a bunch of goals over the opposition.
All of our lingering questions will be answered on the 14th of November, 2019 at the Maldives National Stadium. Kick-off will be 7PM PHT and we hope everyone here and abroad will support our country’s bid for the next stages of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers!