by Jonas Terrado
9 p.m. – Tajikistan vs Philippines
The Philippine Azkals resume their quest to secure a berth in the 2019 Asian Cup when they face Tajikistan in their Group F third round qualifying match at the Republican Central Stadium in Dushanbe.
Kickoff is set at 9 p.m. Manila time with the Azkals hoping to be in better form after a crushing 8-1 defeat to China in an international friendly match last week in Guangzhou and maintain at least a hold of the group lead in the final phase of qualifiers for Asia’s biggest football tournament.
Coach Thomas Dooley’s side will enter the contest with two new players in Ruben “Balot” Doctora and Ace Villanueva. They replaced midfielders Jeff Christiaens and Pika Minegishi who sustained injuries against the Chinese side.
Javi Patino, Phil Younghusband and Misagh Bahadoran, who scored the lone goal in the Chinese friendly which came in the first half, are tasked to lead the Azkals’ attack while attention will be on goalkeeper Patrick Deyto as he tries to prove critics wrong after a frustrating stretch of matches.
Deyto has been a subject of criticism by some football followers with his shaky manning of the sticks in both the Azkals and for Philippines Football League side Global-Cebu in the club scene.
He is filling in for the absence of first-choice goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, who decided to skip the match after signing a contract to play for English second division club Cardiff City.
The Azkals, who opened their qualifiers campaign with a 4-1 win over Nepal at Rizal Memorial Stadium in late-March, face a Tajikistan squad seeking its first victory in the group.
Tajikistan lost 2-1 to Yemen in the other Group F match last March.
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