Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Azkals face severe test vs Mongolia

Azkals face severe test vs Mongolia - The Philippine Azkals battle the Mongolia riding on the hopes of a nation in a match literally made in hell.
Azkals vs Mongolia AFC Challenge Cup - Azkals vs Mongolia AFC Challenge Cup match coverage. live updates on the AFC Challenge Cup game between the Philippine Azkals and the Mongolia squad in Ulan Bator. Make sure to refresh this page regularly for updates on this highly anticipated game.
Game Two is set at 1 p.m. today, and the Azkals, being celebrated at home like they’re vying in the World Cup, will have to overcome more than the same team that they defeated, 2-0, in the opener of their AFC Challenge Qualifier at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod last Feb. 9.
The Azkals will tackle sub-zero weather, which only gets colder with the wind, and will have to erase the memories of their stay in Japan marred by the magnitude 8.9 earthquake that left thousands dead, injured and missing.

The game against the Mongolians, who need to win by a margin of at least three goals to boot the Filipinos out of the AFC Challenge Cup group stage, will be a serious test of character for the Azkals, their ability to deliver under difficult conditions.

The Azkals arrived in Mongolia at 4 a.m. Sunday, tired and weary from a long journey that took more than 24 hours, and minus their luggage. Two of them had to take the longer route to Ulan Bator, with one more desperately trying to get there.

Ray Jonsson, a reliable midfielder, came all the way from London but, as of presstime, was having problems with his travel documents. The latest word, however, is that he’s on his way to Ulan Bator via Incheon, South Korea.

The Azkals got reunited with their luggage at around 4 a.m. yesterday, and had their first change of clothes since the day they left earthquake-ravaged Japan.

“Finally got our luggage. Feels like Christmas,” said team captain Aly Borromeo.

“We’re really happy to get our luggage,” said striker Phil Younghusband.

“We’re now ready to take the cold in practice. We’ll try not to freeze in the meantime,” said defender Anton del Rosario.

Donning their royal-blue Columbia thermal gear, the Azkals went out to practice yesterday. They hardly looked like a football team, covered from head to toe, some of them seen doing some wind sprints, vainly trying to get warmed up.

The snow-covered flanks of the playing field were a clear sign of how cold it is in Ulan Bator. Weather for today’s match is expected to be anywhere near minus 10 degrees. For most of the Azkals, it’s a condition they’ve never been into.

“It actually snowed in the middle of the team practice,” reported GMA-7’s Chino Trinidad.

The Azkals were shown on television frolicking in the snow outside the pitch, just having fun, staying loose one day to the match. Coach Michael Weiss was with them the whole time.

“Training is over with. It was too cold, especially when the wind blows. Otherwise, when you’re running, it’s not really a problem,” added Younghusband, who scored one of the two goals, the other one courtesy of Chieffy Caligdong, at the Panaad Stadium.

Younghusband, on his Twitter account, was already thinking of how he’d celebrate if he scored at Ulan Bator.

The last couple of days, according to Philippine Football Federation president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta, is something the Azkals should get over with heading into the match, which should decide whether the Philippines would move on to the groups stage of the AFC Challenge Cup.

If they do, the Azkals will have very little time to rest. They are scheduled to fly home tomorrow, and get ready for another trip to Myanmar on March 19, for matches against Myanmar, Palestine and Bangladesh until the 25th.

“It was a form of distraction that we couldn’t have avoided. It was a very unfortunate incident,” said Araneta before he boarded the plane to Incheon along with Azkals team manager Dan Palami.

“But we’re hoping that our players are mature enough. I hope they can cope with the situation. That they can refocus,” he added.

“We are hoping for the best.”

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