Azkals aim for victory in AFC Challenge Cup group-stage finale

A tie might be enough to put the Philippines through to the Challenge Cup semi-finals, but their coach says they are aiming for a win in the final group game.

MALE, MALDIVES // With the golden ticket of an Asian Cup berth still up for grabs, do not expect the Philippines to do only the bare minimum to advance to the AFC Challenge Cup semi-finals.

One point against Turkmenistan in Saturday’s Group B finale in Male will assure the Azkals of a place in the last four. Coach Thomas Dooley, however, said he would rather not leave things to chance.

“We have to go for the next game and win the next game, no matter what,” he said. “I don’t want to play all this gambling, maybe a tie and if they score two and we score four. I want to win every game.”

While the Philippines and Turkmenistan meet at National Stadium in Male at 3pm UAE time, Afghanistan face Laos at the same time at Hithadhoo Stadium. The Group B winner will play the host nation after the Maldives took second in Group A with a 0-0 draw on Friday against Palestine, who won the group and will play the Group B runner-up in next week’s semi-finals.

A point could have given Myanmar second place ahead of the Maldives by virtue of their head-to-head win, but they lost 1-0 to Kyrgyzstan and bowed out of the tournament.

Dooley, the German-American who accepted his first post as an international coach in February, has made a point of pushing the Philippines players to keep the ball on the ground and maintain possession, an approach appreciated by captain Rob Gier.

“Dooley really emphasises us playing out of the back, which is great. Possession of the football in today’s modern game is key,” he said. “His attention to detail is also something that has really stood out. Lots of presentations, videos and analysis of opponents, all those little extra things that can help you along the way. I like to think we’re better-prepared than we have been in the past.”

Injury concerns for goalkeeper Neil Etheridge and defender Juan Guirado carry over from the Laos match on Thursday, and midfielder Chris Greatwich is still in doubt after suffering an eye injury against Afghanistan on Tuesday.

Turkmenistan’s worries are over suspensions rather than injuries. The goalkeeper Nikita Gorbunov and defender Serdar Annaorazov were both sent off during Thursday’s 3-1 loss to Afghanistan, and defender Shohrat Soyunov is suspended for the Philippines match after receiving his second yellow card of the group stage.

Turkmenistan’s coach, Rahim Kurbanmamedov, said the absences at the back would not change his approach.

“We need to play for a win in our next match. That is the only way forward for us,” he said through an interpreter. He said the red cards “will not affect our strategy. We have other players on the bench and they can play, also”,

Afghanistan are in a similar position to the Philippines, needing only a draw in their final group match to reach the semi-finals. The match will also be the last one in charge for interim coach Erich Rutemoller, who will step aside as Mohammad Kargar resumes his duties after completing his three-match suspension.

That does not mean Rutemoller will go easy on his players, though. The German did not hesitate in expressing his disappointment with Afghanistan’s play during their defeat of Turkmenistan, despite the positive result.

“I thought we could play better football. Turkmenistan is a very good team, but I thought we could play better and we didn’t do it, so I was disappointed,” he said. “I know we have four points and that’s OK, and we have a big chance to go to the semi-finals. But as a coach, you can’t only see the result. You also see the way of playing, on defence and offence. Our offence did not work the way I want to see, but the defence was OK.”

pfreelend@thenational.ae

Published: May 24, 2014 04:00 AM

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