The Azkals are trying to clinch a return trip to the semifinal round with a win over Turkmenistan in a tournament where only the top two teams of each group will advance to the crossover semifinals.
The country’s national football team is currently tied in first place with Afghanistan with four points in Group B after notching a 2-0 victory over Laos in their second assignment of the tournament last Thursday (May 22). Simone Rota and Patrick Reichelt provided the goals for the Azkals, who are smelling blood entering Saturday’s match.
Their upcoming opponent, Turkmenistan, is coming off a stunning 3-1 defeat against Afghanistan – a team held to a goalless draw by the Philippines. The loss proved costly for Turkmenistan as it dropped to third place with three points.
The Central Asian nation also suffered big blows during the loss as it saw starting goalkeeper and captain Nikita Gorbunov and defender Serdar Annaorazov sent off due to straight red cards. As a result, Gorbunov and Annaorazov will be serving suspensions against the Philippines.
In addition, Turkmenistan will also be missing the services of defender Shorat Soyunov as he received his second yellow card of the tournament in the loss to Afghanistan.
However, the Azkals are not without their wounds as they will likely be without key players Neil Etheridge and Juani Guirado due to injuries. First choice keeper Etheridge sat out the match against Laos with a recurrence of his thigh injury while defender Guirado was stretched off in the second half with what appeared to be an injured right knee.
The match on Saturday will be the fourth meeting between the Philippines and Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan won the first two meetings, including their 2012 AFC Challenge Cup semifinal encounter, where it scored two goals in the last ten minutes to beat the Philippines, 2 – 1.
The Azkals, though, prevailed during their last meeting in the Challenge Cup qualifiers held at Rizal Memorial Football Stadium last year with a 1-0 win.
Will the Azkals clinch a semi-final berth or will Turkmenistan prevail and add drama to Group B of the AFC Cup? Find out as ABS-CBN Sports+Action airs the final match of the Azkals in the group round against Turkmenistan live on Saturday (May 24) at 7 PM. Catch the pre-game coverage of the match at 6:30 PM and its replay on Sunday (May 25) at 2 PM.