Philippines manager: We're the underdogs
American accuses Sundram's Lions of mind games; urges Azkals to prove their worth on the pitch
REPORTING FROM MANILA
PHILIPPINES v SINGAPORE
(Tonight, 7.30pm, Singtel TV Ch 114 & StarHub TV Ch 208)
The favourites tag? No thank you, we're the Philippines.
Azkals coach Thomas Dooley yesterday played down his side's No. 1 status in the region heading into tonight's clash with Singapore to open the AFF Suzuki Cup.
This despite his side being ranked 124 in the Fifa rankings - the best in South-east Asia - compared to Singapore, who are 171st.
His reasons: The lack of a "real" home ground advantage, and the unavailability of three stars - goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, defender Daisuke Sato and striker Javier Patino - who were not released by their clubs for the tournament.
Dooley was all smiles at the press conference yesterday, which saw him beside his opposite number tonight, V Sundramoorthy, and the two other coaches in Group A - Thailand's Kiatisuk Senamuang and Indonesia's Alfred Riedl.
He talked about the "positive attitude" and "positive energy" around his team, but when he faced local media later, he said: "Favourites? With all the issues we have, you could say we are the underdogs.
"We have three players unavailable and that's something we have to live with.
"Of course you lose your key player you are a few percentages less stronger, but it means the other players have to step up a little bit more.
"Patino, in particular, was one of the best players we had. He has shown he can score and assist but if he is not able to be here, I'm not going to spend a minute thinking about 'what if'. The players are good enough to be successful, and they just have to work hard."
When asked about playing on home soil, Dooley said: "We don't have a home advantage.
"We know the (Philippines Sports Stadium) probably as well as Singapore do. We have had just one training session more than them.
"The last time we played a match there, it was raining heavily and the pitch was different.
"You only have a homeground advantage when you have a lot of people behind you and you play every match at that stadium, so much so you know every little bump on the pitch. But we don't."
The 54-year-old coach claimed Singapore were "playing games" to confuse their rivals.
"In the (friendly) matches I've seen them play, they're funny," said the American.
"They're playing games. Players wear different numbers, have different names in different games... So it's difficult and I have to do a little bit more homework.
"But, at the end of the day, (Singapore's players) are all good individually. It comes back to the question of whether we are better than them? I hope so. There's a reason why we're 124th and they're 171st. It's not by talking about it, we have to show we are better.
"If our players don't fight in every game, we would be 171 and they would be 124. It comes down to how much we want to win."
Sundram brushed aside Dooley's suggestion of gamesmanship with a smile, and said he was looking forward to the big kick-off.
"We are up against a good team, and in a good group," he said.
"But it's about the 90 minutes and how we approach it tactically.
"Whether we press high or park the bus... you'll see tomorrow."
It comes down to how much we want to win.
— Philippines coach Thomas Dooley