Azkals vs Harimau: A tale of contrasting fortunes

The Philippine Azkals and Harimau Malaysia are set to square off for a friendly on March 22 in preparation for the 2019 Asian Cup qualifying with both teams coming into the match with contrasting fortunes.

Some luck for the Philippines

It’s no secret that Philippine club football is in a temporary hiatus, with the Philippine Football Federation leadership preparing for its forthcoming National League, putting the domestic game to a halt. The Azkals are lucky however because a good portion of its core players are participating in the AFC Cup for Ceres-Negros and Global removing doubts on fitness issues brought about by the extended break. Both clubs have been playing at a high level regularly since February and players from these clubs are expected to be favorites in the starting eleven.

It also helps that some players are coming in from abroad where fitness and timing is not an issue. Neil Etheridge and Daisuke Sato are coming in from Europe where the football season is at its peak. Javier Patino and Mike Ott are also coming in from China and Thailand whose leagues have already commenced. The rest of the local players will have some catching up to do on their local counterparts. Loyola’s James and Phil Younghusband, Kaya’s Kenshiro Daniels, and Stallion’s Fitch Arboleda have

Issues for Malaysia

The Malaysians however have a different story with domestic and International issues putting preparations for the Asian Cup qualifying on-hold. The Football Association of Malaysia will hold a major election which will include the presidency of Malaysia’s football governing body. A win by favorite Tunku Sultan Ismail, owner of Malaysian powerhouse Johor Darul Ta’zim, could mean a big change for the national squad.

Reports say that current Malaysia Coach Ong Kim Swee could be on his way out with the possibility of a former JDT Coach coming in to manage the squad. Many of JDTs stars have prematurely retired from international football in 2016, following complaints on training methods, but the retirements were largely viewed as political move from the Johorian club in protest of the current FAM administration. Their return and the coaching change could be a big boost for Malaysian football but will somewhat peg the national team back to square one in terms of preparation.

The recent diplomatic tensions between Malaysia and North Korea have forced the Malaysian government to ban the Malaysian squad from playing their March 28 match in Pyongyang. The banhas forced the AFC to move the match to a neutral venue with the date set back to June 8.

What’s at stake

For the Philippines, cohesion leading into next weeks opening match with Nepal is the target for home squad. The schedule between the international break and the AFC Cup has been tight leaving the players with less time to rest and prepare against Malaysia. With players dishing out good performances in the regional stage, the Azkals would be fighting for their place in the starting eleven.

For Malaysia, the current team is determined to get a win for their Coach who has been a true professional in dealing with the current issues and is still grieving with a loss in his family. The match will also serve as an audition of the current squad should changes occur in the new FAM administration.

The recent use of FIFA rankings as a seeding tool in World Cup and Asian Cup qualifying by the AFC would also mean that Asian teams could no longer take International friendlies for granted. A win is necessary as a it could spell the difference in the qualifying draws for future tournaments.

Both teams last played to two 0-0 draws in 2014 with matches held in Selayang and Cebu. The two matches also served as debuts for Thomas Dooley and Ong Kim Swee as coaches of their respective teams.

The match will be played on Wednesday (Mar 22) with kickoff scheduled at 730PM. There will be no local tv coverage but a livestream will be made available at the PFF website.

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