The Philippine Azkals finally get a chance to defy low expectations and availability issues when they start their AFF Suzuki Cup 2020 campaign Wednesday, Dec. 8 against host Singapore.
A tough challenge awaits the Azkals in the 8:30 p.m. at Singapore’s National Stadium against an opponent buoyed by its hometown supporters and confidence gained from a 3-0 thrashing of Myanmar three days earlier.
Odds seem unfavorable for the Philippines to secure at least a fifth semifinal appearance in Southeast Asia’s most prestigious competition, but designated coach Stewart Hall said it is something the team should embrace.
“I use that as a motivation to the players. They think we’re here just to make the numbers,” Hall said. “You know, I say to the players that you’ve been written off in the Philippines, said during the pre-match press conference.
“I’ve watched all the games so far and all the players have watched the games so far and we say, we haven’t seen anything yet that we need to be scared off.”
The Azkals come into the match with 21 players on the squad after defender Jefferson Tabinas was ruled out of the tournament due to travel restrictions in Japan where he is based.
Veteran Iain Ramsay has yet to arrive from Australia while debuting Jesper Nyholm only arrived on the eve of the match.
The Azkals have some key names in the Lion City, namely team captain Stephan Schrock, naturalized player Bienvenido Maranon, defender Amani Aguinaldo and goalkeeper Kevin Mendoza but they’ll have to work a lot in order to produce a result against Singapore.
Singapore needed time before getting the full three points against Myanmar, with Muhammad Safuwan scoring the opener and Ikhsan Fandi finding the back of the net twice before halftime.
“Two of Singapore’s three goals came from set pieces. That’s something that we’ve looked at,” Hall said. “They also were a team that looked like they like to counter attack. So that’s another thing that we’ve looked at.
“So the advantage of Singapore playing before we do means that we can have a good look at them. But they won’t have a chance to have a look at us,” the English coach added.
The Azkals have a decent record against Singapore in the AFF championship since 2010, posting one win, three draws and one defeat.