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Azkals in high spirits, all set vs Sri Lanka
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Azkals are ready to go for their home game against the Sri Lankan Brave Reds at the Rizal Memorial Stadium on Sunday as they tangle for the right to advance to the next round of the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
The Nationals are positive that the hometown advantage will give them the needed boost to get past Sri Lanka, which held them to a 1-1 draw last Wednesday.
Filipino-American Nate Burkey, who scored the team’s lone goal against Sri Lanka, said some of his supporters from the United States will be in the Philippines to watch the game.
“We’re in high spirits as of the moment. We’re gonna give 100% on tomorrow’s (Sunday) match,” said Azkals team captain Aly Borromeo.
For his part, player Anton del Rosario said, “Going home makes a huge difference.”
It would be a historical feat for the Azkals if they get past the Brave Reds as this would mark the first time that the Philippines will advance in a FIFA qualifier.
If they beat Sri Lanka, the Nationals will face higher-ranked Kuwait next.
“Iba ‘yung preparation dito, hindi lang para sa Sri Lanka pati para sa Kuwait,” said team co-captain Chieffy Caligdong.
Asked if they are pressured by their fans’ expectations, Azkals coach Hans Weiss said, “There’s no pressure. The pressure is they could not eat out of excitement and happiness.”
Azkals fans to come in full force; Sri Lankans unfazed
Thousands of Filipino fans are expected to come in full force to the refurbished Rizal Memorial Stadium on Sunday.
Among them are Richard “Ebong” Joson of the Azkals’ fan group “Kaholeros” (Barkers), who assured the Nationals their full support.
“The biggest difference now when they (Sri Lankans) come over here is that the Kaholeros and the rest of the nation will be behind the Azkals,” he said in an interview on ANC’s “Hardball.”
The Philippine Football Federation (PFF) even announced that there will be hundreds more tickets available to accommodate more Azkals fans.
The tickets will come from Sri Lanka’s share as the PFF’s supply has already run out.
Sri Lankan football team captain Rohana Ruwanthilake, however, said they don’t mind playing in front of a hostile crowd.
“It doesn’t matter…we want to win the match tomorrow,” he said.
Sri Lanka’s South Korean coach, Jang Jung, for his part said his team’s morale is high owing to their success in suppressing the Azkals during their last match.
He refused to reveal if they will make changes in their strategy on Sunday.
“Why would I say [it] here? You come tomorrow then you’ll know,” Jang said, laughing.
“Their morale is so high, I think they are ready,” he said of the Brave Reds.