Stars will collide once more as the Philippines are set to face the reigning AFF Suzuki Cup champions Malaysia for the second time this year on Friday, June 1, 2012 at the Stadium Shah Alam in Selangor, Malaysia.
Their last meeting last February at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila proved to be undecided as the match was settled by a draw with Denis Wolf scoring his first international goal in his debut for the Azkals and Ahmad Shakir Mohd Ali scoring the equalizer late, to share the spoils between the two sides. This time around, several changes have already been noted for both teams, especially for the Philippines.
Schrock, Muller, Ott to return despite missing Younghusbands, Etheridge
The match will serve as the return of Hoffenheim’s recent signing, Stephan Schrock, who made waves after debuting for the Philippines during the FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Sri Lanka and scoring a long range strike in the 2-1 loss against Kuwait. Schrock would not be alone as Paul Mulders, fresh from the AFC Challenge Cup, will also be playing in the match along with Manny Ott.
However they will be without the services several key players. Phil and James Younghusband are out of the squad due to a prior commitment and goalkeeper Neil Etheridge is also out, serving his suspension incurred during the AFC Challenge Cup.
Etheridge’s absence meant that the posts will be manned again by MSV Duisburg’s Roland Muller, who last featured during the 2011 Long Teng Cup and the South East Asian Games in Jakarta, where he earned several plaudits despite his team falling 3-1 against Vietnam in the opening match of the SEA Games. Although a bit shorter than Etheridge, Muller has already made a name for himself with his quick reactions in denying every chance on goal.
Despite missing a number of players, expect that the Azkals will still be a full squad with Juan Luis Guirado or Jason Sabio partnering with Rob Gier on defense similar to their Challenge Cup tandem, Carli de Murga on right back and a possible start for Roxy Dorlas who was deemed impressive during the team training camp in San Carlos City and Bacolod City.
Schrock is expected to occupy the midfield position, partnering with Paul Mulders. The Global FC’s pair of Misagh Bahadoran or Patrick Reichelt can play in the right wing while the left wing will be manned by co-skipper Chieffy Caligdong. Up front will be the strike force of Angel Guirado and Denis Wolf, with Ian Araneta, who scored the equalizer against Global FC last Sunday, on the bench as a super sub.
Tiger threat, a stronger Malaysia side
Last February, it was held in Manila, now it will be a daunting task for the Azkals as they will face the Harimau Malaya in their own turf where they have been undefeated at home for the past few years. Though they will not play at the 87,000 capacity Bukit Jalil Stadium, their nerves will still be tested as the Shah Alam Stadium which has a capacity of 80,000 people.
What is more daunting for the Azkals is that most of the players that K. Rajagobal called up for their series of matches are the crop of the 2010 side that defeated Indonesia in the final of the AFF Suzuki Cup. Furthermore, the spotlight is set again on talismanic striker Safee Sali, who has already scored 18 goals in 37 appearances for Malaysia, although he has not yet scored since December, he is still a threat to the Azkals back four.
Aside from Safee Sali, the Azkals should also be weary of Malaysia’s goalkeeper, Khairul Fahmi Che Mat. Che Mat has been the first choice goalkeeper for the Tigers in both the Suzuki Cup and the SEA Games. Despite having limited minutes against the Philippines last February, Che Mat is expected to pester Wolf and Guirado as they attempt to nick in the ball towards Che Mat's net.
Curtain Raiser for the Suzuki Cup
The next time these two sides would possibly meet will be the Suzuki Cup in December. Although the group seedings have not yet been decided, this match will serve as the perfect curtain raiser to the tournament, and a bit of bragging rights included. Malaysia to show how strong they are at home and the Philippines to further cement their rise to the football ranks.
After this match, Malaysia will have another score to settle as they face fierce rivals Singapore on June 8 and June 12 while the Philippines is set to face Suzuki Cup runners up Indonesia in Manila on June 5 in the match that is billed as “the home game that never was” due to Indonesia hosting both legs of their semifinal match up, after the match against Indonesia, the Azkals will face Guam on June 12 in the first home game at Bacolod's Panaad Stadium after the 2-0 win against Mongolia in the AFC Challenge Cup.