KEY midfielder Ian Ramsay believes the Philippine Azkals are peaking at the right time two days before they close out their joint World Cup and Asian Cup qualifying campaign in 2019 against Group A pacesetter Syria tomorrow at the Rashid Stadium in Dubai, the United Emirates.
“The whole squad has been positive. We have got a good group growing together, and we have some momentum going into the Syria match,” Ramsay said yesterday in an interview posted on the AFC website. He scored one of the two goals in the national squad’s 2-1 win over the Maldives last Thursday in Male.
With the win, the Pinoy booters were currently in third place with seven points behind China, which is in second place likewise with seven points but ahead on goal difference after losing 1-2 to the Syrians the same day.
The loss prompted Italian coach Marcelo Lippi, who led Italy to the World Cup championship in 2006, to step down the succeeding day.
“(Coach) Scott Cooper has got the team tactically tight, and we are working hard for each other. We are a tighyly-knit group,” noted the veteran Fil-Aussie footballer, who currently plays for the Sukhothai club in the Thai League 1.
“I’m growing in confidence and I’m enjoying football and obviously everyone can see that,” he added. “The most important thing is that we got three points (against the Maldives).”
The Azkals are out to avenge a 2-5 setback to the Syrians in their first meeting last Oct. 10 at the Panaad pitch in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental.
National team manager Dan Palami, who joined the Azkals last Tuesday, said he would be glad if Cooper’s charges could come up with a draw against the Syrians, although he did not rule out an upset.
“We have instilled in the mindset of our players that they should play to win, and there is no good performance unless we win, whether it be against a stronger or weaker squad,” Palami said.
Expected to be back in harness is defender Martin Steuble, who sat out the match against the Maldives because of a one-game suspension for incurring two yellow cards.
Steuble’s return could not be more timely considering the PH backline is expected to be tested to the hilt by Syria’s relentless attacks led by striker Omar Jehad Al Somah, who netted two goals against the Azkals in their previous encounter.