The Philippine Azkals arrived in this bustling metropolis Monday with their sights trained on pulling off what could be an even bigger upset than the one they produced four years ago in the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup.
After holding three time champion Thailand to a goal-less draw in the first leg of their semifinal tie, the Azkals have no recourse but to deliver another brilliant performance Wednesday night, this time in enemy territory, to keep their bid for a first major title alive.
The Filipino side is no stranger to hammering out big feats, having beaten then defending champion Vietnam in Hanoi four years ago, but the Thais are a challenge unlike any other as they have been the benchmark in the sport in the region for the past two decades.
While the league where the players in the Philippines are culled from is still developing, the Thai Premier League, where the War Elephants get their pool of players is considered one of the strongest in the continent.
And even with a young side, the War Elephants are brimming with confidence they can get past the Azkals.
“One hundred percent, we will go to the next round,” said Thai midfielder Charyl Chappuis. “For us, it was important that the Philippines did not score [in the first leg]. We are not so happy because we wanted to get the win, but we think we have the advantage at home.”
The Azkals likewise believe there were plenty of positives coming out of their performance in the first leg.
“I thought we were excellent and the commitment was what exactly I expected it would be,” said skipper Rob Gier.
Gier is relishing the thought of the Azkals defying the odds once more on Wednesday at the iconic Rajamangala Stadium where a sellout crowd of 80,000 is expected.
“They thought the Thais were going to walk over us and we’ve proven that they are in a game now and that they have to bring their A Game if they want to beat us,” said Gier.
The away goals rule give the Azkals another glimmer of hope as a scoring draw will be enough for them to advance to their first finals appearance in the tournament.
“I think if we put in a performance like in the first leg there’s no way we could not score a goal,” said Gier, predicting that the Thais will be having trouble dealing with teammate Phil Younghusband whom he considers the “best striker in Southeast Asia.”