Sri Lanka has released their 25 man-squad to compete in the World Cup qualifiers. Led by Rohana Ruwanthilake who continues to captain the side little is still known about the team who stand in the way of the Philippines reaching the second round of the World Cup Qualifiers. Should the Philippines beat Sri Lanka they still have to face Kuwait in the second round before a third round group stage and a final fourth round group stage to reach the World Cup finals. Though such a challenge seems out of reach for now, the main objective is to gain valuable experience for future tournaments.
This experience has already started to prove fruitful. The Azkals are still in Germany where they have defeated a selection from around Aachen-Düren 4-1 (Phil Younghusband twice, James Younghusband, Chieffy Caligdong scoring) before going on to beat the U19s of SC Bonner by the same score-line (Phil Younghusband, Chieffy Caligdong, Stephan Schrock and Ian Araneta scoring). Confidence must not rise too high, however, as the selection of Aachen-Düren featured players mostly from the sixth tier of German football while an Under-19 team will always be physically less mature than a fully developed side. With two remaining games against FC Ingolstadt and SV Darmstadt 98 the Azkals will be put to the test as the Ingolstadt are in the Second tier of German Football while Darmstadt are in the third. Many of Ingolstadt’s players will likely be from their reserve squad as they play against their club teammate Manny Ott, though it will still represent a jump in the calibre of the Azkals’ opponents and so the remaining two games will be a good test for the players.
Based on these games the updated predicted line-up is as follows:
Del Rosario Borromeo Gier Jonsson
J. Younghusband Caligdong
P. Younghusband Aldeguer
Of particular interest is Stephan Schrock, the Fil-German having impressed greatly during his short time with the Azkals. Able to play in numerous positions it is likely Schrock will feature in the centre of midfield to stop the Sri Lankan attacks and to build up the Philippine play. This defensive holding midfielder allows James Younghusband and Chieffy Caligdong, who has scored in the last three games, to push forward on the wings and feed Phil Younghusband and Angel Aldeguer in the centre. This may also see Manny Ott push forward and create more of a diamond in the midfield but with Schrock opening his account for the Azkals in Germany they may just share the centre of midfield.
The Sri Lankan team meanwhile have only just been named. Conceding that they are late to prepare, the Sri Lankan coach Jang Jung commented “We commenced training late due to a delayed selection process, however we are in a positive frame of mind to counter the challenge before us”. A positive frame of mind may not be enough, however, to defeat a team brimming with confidence and improving at each point. The Azkals may be only 14 places higher in FIFA World Rankings (155th compared to Sri Lanka at 169) but there is an ever-increasing gulf in quality as new players are brought in and greater training techniques bring out the best in the already-established players.
June 29 will be an exciting day for the Azkals and a great chance to see how the current batch of players match up. If preparations continue as well as they are now then the team may firmly establish it’s credentials in Asian football through a convincing defeat over Sri Lanka on their own soil.
Interestingly in the Sri Lankan team, however, none of the players who had their bans for alleged match-fixing recently lifted are named in the squad. Instead, here is the team to face the Azkals on June 29 and July 3 as reported in the Sri Lankan Daily Mirror:
Sri Lanka team- Last row standing from left- Kavindu Ishan, Tuan Rizni, Sujan Perera, Manjula Fernando, Sampath Bandara, Shafraz Kaiz and Thilanka Nandasiri. Second row from left- Sanka Dhanushka, K. Sutharshan, Lahiru Tharaka, Mohamed Zain Ismath, Nagoor Meera, P.J. Chaminda, Dilki Kumara, Kolitha Lankesara, Bandara Warakagoda, Shafraz Nazar, Chameera Kirishantha and Nuwan Priyantja. Seated from left- Nimal Antoni, M. Izzadeen, Chathura Gunarathna, Sanju Silva (Physio), Jang Jung (head coach), SP Wasantha Wickramasinghe (Manager), D. Chandrasiri (coach), Thushara Sampath (Asst. coach), Rohana Ruwanthilake (captain), Fazul Rahuman and Nadeeka ushpakumara.
Next on the COUNTDOWN TO SRI LANKA, the last analysis: the Azkals finish their preparations
Co-director of the Fairplay for All Foundation which runs Payatas FC, Kasiglahan FC and Kasiglahan Girls FC. Check out the charity and donate to support grassroots football providing education and homes for street kids: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Fairplay-For-All-Foundation/163370857062294