Monday, 10 December 2012

Azkals to play “waiting game” in Singapore

Philippines coach Michael Weiss reckons the compact Jalan Besar Stadium, venue for the return leg of their AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final with Singapore on Wednesday, could suit his team. 

He said that the 8,000 capacity stadium with its artificial pitch “just might work to our advantage” after the 0-0 draw in the home leg on Saturday left the tie wide open.

“We will not risk much, the pitch in Jalan Besar is pretty tight,” he said. “We have to be patient because we expect to see Singapore more active on their (home) turf.”

“A victory or a draw with goals that is what we are working on,” added Weiss, whose team vanquished the Lions 2-0 in a friendly match staged at the Jurong West Stadium on September 7.

Weiss also said that the short recovery period between games would give the Philippines an edge as most of the squad was injury free.

With the Azkals boasting a deep bench, he did not rule out making two to three changes to his starting line-up on Wednesday.

Among those who either have been used sparingly or not at all are defender Jason Sabio, midfielder Chris Greatwich, who scored the late equaliser against the Lions in their group match in Vietnam two years ago, and striker Denis Wolf, who was hindered by an ankle sprain during the Group A campaign in Bangkok.

Also waiting for the opportunity to contribute to the Azkals’ cause is former US Youth team standout, Filipino-American winger Demit Omphroy, who did not see group action because of flu.

Playing an AFF Suzuki Cup match in front of a hometown crowd for the first time, the Azkals seemed to be more jittery than inspired on Saturday and barely managed to escape with the draw following a dominant first half from Singapore.

Still, the 52-year-old Weiss, who became the Philippine coach at the start of 2010, was upbeat about their chances in Singapore.

He attributed his confidence to “a very solid defence. Against this defence it will not be easy for Singapore to score even on home soil.”

Weiss added that the return of Jerry Lucena, who is set to rejoin the team in Singapore on Monday, would steady the midfield and keep the team “calmer in the build-up time.”

He also expected Dennis Cagara, who arrived from Europe on the eve of Saturday’s match, to have fully recovered from jet lag and be the enforcer once again in the back line.

Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic said he was still unsure whether Shi Jiayi, who missed the first leg because of a family emergency, would be available for Wednesday’s match. 

“We shall see, we shall see,” said Avramovic on the status of the key midfielder.

Avramovic will also be keeping a close eye on the medical team’s report on Khairul Amri, who was taken off late in the game with an ankle injury.

Amri ran the show for Singapore and with midfielder Hariss Harun ruled out for the rest of the tournament, Avramovic can ill afford to lose another key figure in attack.

Both camps are acutely aware that the away goals rule is being used for the AFF Suzuki Cup meaning the Philippines would progress to the final in the event of a score draw on Wednesday.

However, another scoreless draw will result in two extra 15-minute periods being played and if there are still no goals, the match will be decided by a penalty shootout.

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