Azkals tackle Maldives in key clash

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    THE Philippine Azkals’ campaign in the joint World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers enters a critical phase as they hit the road against the Maldives today and Syria three days later.

    “This phase is critical to our World Cup qualifying competition entering the second half of the qualifiers in 2020,” national team manager Dan Palami said before leaving last Tuesday to join the Azkals in the Maldivian capital of Male.

    After their sterling scoreless standoff against mighty China last Oct. 15 at the Panaad pitch in Bacolod, the Azkals are currently ranked No. 3 in the five-team Group A with four points.

    Unbeaten Syria, which nipped Maldives 2-1 that same day for its third straight win, paces the group with nine points while China is running second with seven in the bracket where the top two squads after the home-and-away tournament advance to the next round.

    The Azkals tackle the hosts at their National Stadium 4 p.m. (7 p.m. Manila time).

    The Philippines will play two of its three remaining matches at home next year, possibly at the newly-renovated Rizal Memorial Football Stadium, according to Palami.

    After tomorrow’s match, the Azkals proceed to Dubai, the United Arab Emirates where they play Syria at the Rashid Stadium.

    Palami was encouraged by the outcome of their match against the Chinese which showed that “if we play together as a team and play well we can hold off a team as strong as them,” adding that majority of the team members would come from their respective stints in the just-concluded Thai League 1.