THE Azkals eye redemption from a 0-2 defeat to Singapore in a friendly match over the weekend as they face a 135th-ranked Nepal side in a historic international friendly on Tuesday at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
The nationals take on the Himalayan Tigers at 7 p.m. and German mentor Hans Michael Weiss said his wards are healthy and are all geared up to take the new challenge and hopefully come out victorious.
But Weiss admitted the pressure has increased every game for the No. 166th-ranked Azkals, who are using the friendly to hone for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup next year in Nepal.
“The Philippines has made its mark in football. The neighboring countries take us more seriously. Before, people are guessing how much we will lose. It’s not the case anymore,” said Weiss in the prematch press conference on Monday at the media room of the Ninoy Aquino Stadium.
“We expect a tight match against Nepal. The players are in a better physical stage and I think we can beat them tomorrow,” he added.
This will be the fourth international match for the Azkals in seven days, having played in the Long Teng Cup, where they finished second, and a friendly encounter with Singapore.
Cathy Rivilla, head of the local organizing committee, said Tuesday’s duel marks the first time in 14 years that the Philippines will be hosting a friendly. The last time a friendly was held in the country was in November 1997 when a local team lost to Estonia, 0-1, also at the Rizal pitch.
Nepal head coach Graham Paul Roberts said they have so much respect for the Azkals, but stressed they are here to win.
“The Philippines is a very young side and so is our team. We can get to learn from each other,” said Roberts, who was a consultant with the Pakistan football team last year before moving over to Nepal.
“This is a good game for us. We haven’t played for three months and this is a good test for us. The Philippines is a good side and hopefully that won’t come out tomorrow because I don’t like losing. We come here to put on a show,” he added.
Team skipper and defender Sagar Thapa, the oldest on the Nepal side at 25, said they are bringing in the same team that dropped a 1-0 decision to North Korea in the first round of the Asian qualifier for the 2014 World Cup.
Nepal lost to Jordan, 0-9, in the first home-and-away match of the Asian qualifier at Amman before forcing a 1-1 draw at home in Katmandu. Jordan, according to Roberts, is a quality opponent and could qualify in the coming World Cup.
Weiss said midfielder Angel Guirado is a doubtful starter because of a right foot injury he suffered against Singapore, while reserve striker Ian Araneta will play despite problems in his knee.
Returning to the Philippine side is defender Rob Geir, who missed Long Teng Cup match and the friendly against Singapore.
Nepal beat the Philippines, 1-0, the last time they played each other in 1982. Ganesh Thapa, now the president of the All Nepal Football Association, scored the lone goal.