Azkals: working hard to reach WC dream

THE AZKALS have been surprisingly good in chasing their dream of a slot in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The Azkals or the Philippine men's national football squad have won both their Group H matches in the World Cup qualifiers against higher-ranked Bahrain and Yemen.

The recent success of the Azkals, however, isn't solely because of one player but rather a collective effort of talents, working together as one.

“Love football and work as a team,” said Azkals head coach Thomas Dooley of what should be the mindset of each player for their team to succeed.

The Azkals upset world-ranked No. 106 Bahrain, 2-1, at the Philippine Arena and then beat Yemen, 2-0, in Qatar to go unbeaten and at the top of the table along with North Korea.

A lot is at stake in this tournament, so there is no time for the Azkals to relax despite a good start.

“Now with six points, I make sure that we won't be complacent. We must remain hungry because the Azkals aren't here just to participate but to top the group. As a dreamer, we must reach a notch higher and top the group. That's what we aim for,” said Azkals team manager Dan Palami.

The eight group stage winners and the four best runners-up will advance to AFC Asian Cup in 2019 and the final qualifying round of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

Misagh Bahadoran has been a key player in the Azkals last two wins. He has been a threat offensively, scoring the opening goals in both matches.

“One of the reasons that I did in my last two performances is that coach decided to bring me forward instead of coming from the back all the time and I don't waste my energy defensively. The whole team is working so hard and the job is divided equally. That's why I save energy for going forward. The more you go forward and go inside the box, the more chances to score. I think one of the reasons that I scored is that I was always in the box,” said Bahadoran, who is in form lately.

Dooley also praised Bahadoran for his impressive performances in both matches.

“We play a certain system and we have certain types of players. Misagh is a futsal player, he is one of the fastest, fittest and very dangerous in the box. That is exactly what we need to get him inside the box,” said Dooley. “We believe in him and it is his job to be dangerous and scoring goals. If you give you hundred percent for the team then we will be successful.”

The Azkals will have a friendly on Sept. 3 at the Philippine Arena before their third Group H match on September 8 against the highest world-ranked team in the group, Uzbekistan, which is at No. 74.

The Azkals, in the past, have mostly faltered in the big stage and have been ridiculed by most naysayers. But for the first time, the Azkals have really shown their true potential by working as a unit.

“For as long as we play the way we are playing, play a better tempo and having less mistakes, we will not just conquer the other teams but also the non-believers,” said Palami.
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