WE’VE been so caught up with our team’s prospects in the Asian Cup 2019 lately that we’ve forgotten that the Group of Death awaits the Azkals in the Suzuki Cup 2018.
No wonder that in their last few friendlies, the Azkals have been playing with more grit than one might expect. The 1-1 result against much higher ranked Oman proves this Azkals team means business.
Even better news is that fans will get to see a fired up Azkals play competitively on home soil. No, make that two 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup matches that will be played at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City.
Thanks to the new format, the tournament will have two groups of five teams each, and every team will get to play two home and two away matches in the group stage.
That means the Azkals, which is in Group B, will play home matches against Singapore on November 13 and against Thailand on November 21. For its away matches, the Azkals will face Timor Leste in Kuala Lumpur on November 17, then Indonesia in Jakarta on November 25. That’s the Azkals’ Group of Death in a nutshell.
But for now, head coach Scott Cooper’s toughest nut to crack is deciding on the final lineup. The new format offers logistical nightmares especially for players based in Europe, including those called-up against Oman: John-Patrick Strauss, Amin Nazari, Daisuke Sato, and Neil Etheridge.
Take the case of Etheridge, the first choice goalkeeper. Unless struggling Premier League club Cardiff City gives him two weeks’ off straight, Etheridge will spend “days” in the air flying back and forth Europe and Southeast Asia. Imagine the toll that multiple 20-hour flights would take on a player. Not a good idea.
That leaves Bangkok United’s Michael Falkesgaard taking the mantle as Azkals top shot-stopper. Falkesgaard, of course, had a brilliant performance against Oman last Saturday, making save after massive save.
Falkesgaard wasn’t first choice keeper against Oman, as Etheridge played the first half. But these guys played as first 11: Stephan Palla (Buriram United of Thailand), Alvaro Silva (Kedah Fa of Malaysia), Luke Woodland (Supandburi FC of Thailand), Curt Dizon (Ceres), Kevin Ingreso (Ceres), Martin Steuble (Ceres Negros FC), Manny Ott (Ceres), Patrick Reichelt (Ceres), Javi Patino (Buriram), and Phil Younghusband (Davao Aguilas FC).
And if you’ve noticed, Cooper picked a starting 11 who are all based in Southeast Asia, except for one. Looks like the Azkals squad for the Suzuki Cup is fast shaping up.
October 16, 2018
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