The big guns are available, but a cloud hangs over the Philippine Azkals as they take on Cambodia, Singapore, and Laos in a week of away friendlies.
An armada of Europe-based Azkals will bolster the squad bannered by leading striker Phil Younghusband, since the games are being held during FIFA international match days.
England-based defender Rob Gier tweeted that he and goalie Neil Etheridge were on their way to Cambodia. Ditto for Paul Mulders and Stephan Schrock, who will reportedly play in two of the three games. Fil-Dane Jerry Lucena is also making the trip.
Carlie De Murga will also make himself available. But defender Aly Borromeo is staying home to strengthen his knee, which has not yet recovered from an ACL injury he sustained last year.
However Angel Guirado and Lexton Moy will definitely be absent for the first game against Cambodia.
The Philippine Football Federation Disciplinary Committee has cleared Guirado and Moy of sexual harassment versus Cristy Ramos, but the two have been suspended one game each for a "breakdown of discipline."
James Younghusband has also been slapped the same suspension for the same reason, while coach Hans Michael Weiss will be forced to miss two games for "a failure of leadership." His deputy Edzel Bracamonte has been slapped a one match as well. Team manager Dan Palami has also been forced off the sidelines for the first two games.
It appears that Global FC mentor and Azkals assistant Edwin "Diding" Cabalida will now call the shots for the Nationals for the first two games of the tour.
The team had intended to appeal the suspensions but it seems highly doubtful that the appeals would be successful.
The accusations stem from an incident before the Azkal's home game last February versus Malaysia, when Ms. Ramos allegedly heard lewd comments from the players in the locker room before the game.
Ms. Ramos, also a president of the Philippine Olympic Committtee said on TV that she was "disappointed and disgusted" by the verdict.
Guirado and Moy, with the support of their team mates, have staunchly proclaimed their innocence.
Wednesday's game against Cambodia in Phnom Penh will be the first stop of the tour. The Philippines has a very good record against the Angkor Warriors. The Azkals lead the series with two wins, two draws, and a loss in the first meeting in 1998.
I was in the stands in Bacolod in 2006 when the Philippines beat Cambodia 1-0 in AFF Championship qualifying. Aly Borromeo's late penalty, after Chieffy Caligdong was brought down in the penalty box by Cambodian keeper Ouk Mic, spelled the difference.
In the last meeting in 2008, Borromeo scored again as did Chris Greatwich and Chad Gould as the Pinoys prevailed 3-2.
This will be the first International match for Cambodia since they lost a two-legged World Cup qualifying series to Laos in July of 2011.
On Friday night the Azkals renew acquaintances with Singapore at the Jurong West stadium. When the teams last met last October, Singapore won at home, 2-0.
Singapore will rely on veteran midfielder Shahril Ishak, who has earned 93 caps for the Lions and has tallied six international goals. 42-year old naturalized Bosnian Aleksandar Duric, who scored against the Azkals last year, is also in the squad as is Agu Casmir, Singapore's naturalized Nigerian striker, who is back from injury.
Sixteen of the players are from the Singapore LIONSXII team that finished second in the Malaysian Super League. That team is managed by the Football Association of Singapore and is mostly a youth squad with a few veteran players.
This will be the first leg of a home and home series between the two nations for this year. On November 15 the Azkals entertain the Lions in Cebu, which will be the Philippines' last warmup before the Suzuki Cup.
The tour finishes in Vientiane on Monday with a game against Laos. The two nations have played each other eight times, with Laos winning six and two games drawn.
The last meeting was a dramatic 2-2 draw in the 2010 Suzuki Cup qualifying in October, also in Vientiane. Soukhaphone Vongchiengkham and Kanlaya Sysomvang put the home side up 2-0 with two first-half strikes. But Phil Younghusband pulled a goal back from the penalty spot in the 76th minute.
In the 86th minute Ian Araneta's attempt was batted just over the bar by the keeper. All seemed lost until James Younghusband equalized in the 94th minute with a header off a last-gasp free kick from Etheridge.
The result helped propel the Azkals to the final stage of the 2010 Suzuki Cup, where they launched their fairy-tale semifinal run.
With 16 international goals, striker Visay Phaphouvanin is the biggest Laotian threat.
The Cambodia and Singapore games will be aired live on Studio 23 by ABS-CBN. Wednesday's kick off in Phnom Penh is at 7:30 pm while the Singapore match on Friday starts at 7:45 pm. Unfortunately there will be no TV coverage of the Laos match.
Later this month the Azkals play three home games in the Paulino Alcantara Peace Cup in Rizal Memorial against Guam, Chinese Taipei, and Macau.
With six matches in September, it is hoped by many that Coach Weiss gives players on the margins of the team a chance to suit up for the national team, especially during the Alcantara cup.
Here is the full list of available players in alphabetical order for the CAMBODIA game only, courtesy Patrick Ace Bright.
Jason De Jong
Carlie de Murga
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