Azkals tackle Syrians in World Cup elims

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    HOPING to exploit its hometown edge, the Philippines tries to buck the odds when its tackles Syria today at the start of the second round of the Asian and World Cup qualifiers in Group A at the Pana-ad Stadium in Bacolod, Negros Occidental .

    Under Serbian coach Goran Milojevic, the Azkals, ranked No. 126 in the latest International Football Federation ratings, tackle the higher-ranked Syrians (No. 87) at 7:30 p.m. in front of an expected rabid hometown crowd at the 9,825-seat stadium.

    Coached by Fajr Ibrahim, the visitors hope to stretch their winning streak to 4-0 against the hosts, who have lost all of their previous clashes, including a lopsided 0-12 whipping in the 2001 World Cup qualifiers in Aleppo, Syria.

    The Syrians saw action in the 2018 World Cup in Russia and also in the AFC Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates last January, but like the Filipinos failed to go beyond the group stage.

    Just how the Azkals respond to the instructions of Milojevic, who was thrust into the limelight after being named as the head coach for having a pro license after supposed Irish mentor Scott Cooper was relegated to deputy status for lacking one, will be worth watching.

    Also in the tough group are China, Guan and the Maldives, with the top two teams after the two-round home-and-away series in the group automatically advancing to the next round.

    While hopeful of reaching the 2022 World Cup in Doha, Qatar, Philippine Football Federation president Mariano Araneta Jr. said the more realistic aim for the Azkals would be to make a return trip to the 2023 Asian Cup to be held in China.