The Philippine Azkals will have their first home game of the year on Sunday when the team clashes with Malaysia in Cebu. Live TV coverage will be on ABS CBN Sports and Action Channel 23 starting 6:30pm. Kickoff is at seven pm .
It's the return leg of this year's home-and-away series with the Harimau Malaya. Earlier in the year the two teams played to a goalless draw in Malaysia, as they did in their previous meeting before that in 2012.
Thomas Dooley comes to the Queen City with a depleted side that is missing many of its regulars. Phil Younghusband is not in 22-man roster, reportedly due to a groin injury. Phil has been battling plenty of niggling injuries of late. If you'll recall, in the most recent international friendly against Nepal, Younghusband came on as a second-half substitute with a bandaged left leg.
Captain Rob Gier is also unable to come because of a family commitment. Gier's central defense partner, Juani Guirado, is also missing the match because his wife is about to give birth, according to his Twitter.
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The game will take place on a date that is not in the FIFA calendar of international match days, which is why clubs have no obligation to release their players national team duty. Fortunately veteran holding mid Jerry Lucena was allowed to play by his club in Denmark, as was Filipino-Swiss midfielder Martin Steuble.
Another welcome returnee to the team is Carlie De Murga, formerly of Global, now in Ceres. De Murga has recovered well from catastrophic knee surgery and is back in action. OJ Porteria is back as well after a surprising omission from the Qatar camp.
There are also some new faces in the team. Jovin Bedic of Kaya has made the squad. The Barotac Nuevo midfielder has had plenty of playing time under coach David Perkovic and a call-up is long overdue.
Bedic, who turns 24 in June, was supposedly a bit of a child prodigy as a kid, completely overwhelming his age-group opponents in some matches, I am told, and scoring boatloads of goals.
Last year Rick Olivares made him the subject of an April Fool's Day post where he pretends to be a Filipino-Croatian, in the hopes that he might get noticed by the coach then. The name “Bedic” sounds somewhat Balkan.
Although he was born and raised in Iloilo, Bedic played for archrival Negros Occidental in the U23 national championship in 2011, which didn't sit well with some Ilonggos who vented their fury at him with some spicy trash talk in the two-legged final, which was won by the Negrenses. Bedic's switch was understandable since he played college ball in Negros for West Negros University.
Unlike many provincial players, Bedic is not undersized. He's a strong, decently-sized lad. While usually employed as a central attacking mid, Bedic can also play on the wing. Last Tuesday against Army GTI he supplied Emmanuel Mbata with a superb left-footed cross from that flank that the Nigerian nodded in for a goal in Kaya's 5-1 win.
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My favorite Bedic moment was in the UFL Cup in 2011 in Umak, when, playing for Pachanga, he speared in a sensational high volley goal off his laces against Cebu Queen City United.
Another surprise inclusion is Loyola's Roxy Dorlas. The Filipino-Dutch wingback is back in the national team after a six-year absence. He earned eight full international caps in from 2008 to 2010. There will be quite a few San Beda fans cheering him on.
The midfield corps has been boosted, but Dooley's biggest decision in this game will be at central defense. Amani Aguinaldo just might get his first start in a full international (he came on as a substitute last year in Solo, Indonesia in the 2-0 loss to the Merah Putih.)
The coach could play it conservatively and insert Anton Del Rosario alongside Simone Rota in the center of the defense. That would present an experienced front to the Malaysian attack. But Aguinaldo, widely considered as the Philippines' centerback of the future, has to get his experience somewhere and sometime. Sunday could be as good a time as any. The Davaoeno, who is, I believe just nineteen, will have the benefit of a friendly home crowd.
I suspect Aguinaldo will play alongside either Del Rosario or Rota in the middle, then either Anton or Simone takes right back, with Daisuke Sato at left. DeMurga is another option at right back.
Patrick Deyto will be back in the team after missing the middle east tour because of a family wedding in the UK. I think he gets the nod over Ed Sacapano in goal.
Malaysia will be eager to break their 180-minute goalless drought against the Azkals. Yahya Amri, at 33 Malaysia's most experienced player, will once again try to show his quality. The Johor Daru Takzm player is reportedly one of the the country's highest-paid players. Safee Salee would also love to get on the scoresheet.
The national team should enjoy a significant boost from the home crowd. The last time Cebu hosted an Azkals game was in December 2012, when the Philippines defeated Singapore 1-0 thanks to a superb evening by Sacapano and a goal by Marwin Angeles.
The Cebuanos on hand were loud and energetic, and if memory serves me correctly, they filled up every seat in the house. That crowd certainly gave the team more of a lift than the Bacolod masses in last year's Peace Cup.
History will also be on the side of the home team. With the exception of that aberrational 2-1 loss to Chinese Taipei in Bacolod last year, the Philippines have not been defeated on Visayan soil since 2006, when they dropped a 2x-1 loss to Laos in Panaad.
This is likely the last international match for the Philippines before the AFC Challenge Cup next month. It will be the final chance for players on the fringe to impress Dooley and get on that plane to Maldives. It may be a friendly, but there is plenty to play for on Sunday. Let's hope it ends with an Azkals win.
As the say in Cebu, maayo unta swertihon.
Possible Starting lineups. View the entire squad list here.
Reichelt Steuble JYounghusband
Sato Rota Aguinaldo DelRosario
Steuble Porteria Reichelt
Sato Rota Aguinaldo DeMurga
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.