By Cedelf P. Tupas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
SINGAPORE—Finally parading a full squad that includes their standouts from Europe, the Philippine Azkals mix it up with Southeast Asian powerhouse Singapore in their first international friendly in more than four years at the Jalan Besar Stadium here. The Azkals, coming off a runner-up finish in the Long Teng Cup in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, arrived here last night, confident that they can prove that last year’s 1-1 draw against the Singaporeans in the Suzuki Cup in Vietnam was no fluke.
The Singapore friendly is the first of two international matches in five days for the Azkals, who will return to Manila in time for the Oct. 11 showdown with Nepal at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila.
Azkals skipper Aly Borromeo said just playing a full international friendly match outside the country is already an achievement in itself.
“This is something new for us—traveling outside Manila to play a top team like Singapore,” Borromeo said. “It’s always good for us to play at this level.”
Arriving ahead of the rest of the team, Europe-based players Dennis Cagara, Jerry Lucena, Paul Mulders, Ray Jonnson and Neil Etheridge welcomed their teammates outside the team hotel Thursday night.
“The prospect of playing with the team and some of the new players is exciting,” said Etheridge. “We’re hoping for a good result against Singapore.”
Cagara, the muscular Fil-Danish leftback, will make his Azkals debut in the 7:30 p.m. match against the Lions, who are using the game to prepare for their third round World Cup Qualifying clash against Jordan next week.
Azkals manager Dan Palami already marvels at the prospect of the team playing before a packed stadium after Filipinos here reportedly bought majority of the tickets for the match at the 6,000-seater venue.
“We’re happy that everywhere we go, the support of Filipinos for the team has been tremendous,” said Palami.
Undoubtedly, the squad for the Singapore friendly will be the strongest assembled yet, despite the absence of Stephan Schrock and Anton del Rosario, who are both sidelined by injuries.
“I think we have a stronger team than what we had in the Long Teng Cup and we will be able to test the new players and see what level we are really in,” said Borromeo. “I think this will be the core that we will have for the Suzuki Cup and (AFC) Challenge Cup next year.”
Without Schrock, Azkals coach Michael Weiss plans to pair up Mulders with fellow Fil-Dutch player Jason de Jong at midfield.
Mulders has been vocal of his desire to play as an attacking midfielder – his position with his club ADO Den Haag in the Dutch first division – after being deployed as leftback in the World Cup Qualifiers against Sri Lanka.
“It will be interesting to see Mulders play in his natural position,” Weiss said.
Still feeling pain in his leg, Chieffy Caligdong will be looking to sustain his scintillating form after scoring four goals in the last three matches for the Azkals.
“I’m not 100 percent but I’m ready to play,” the diminutive left winger said.