THE DOSSIER presents: Philippines vs Kyrgyzstan preview

By Kevin Estrada

Welcome back to The Dossier, your pre-match preview of the Azkals on their road to the Suzuki Cup.

With just eleven days to go before we defend our home in Bocaue, we will now look at their final opponent in Kyrgyzstan in which we host them in a friendly on Wednesday evening in Manila.

So, without any other intro, we can now start.

Kyrgyzstan: No Strangers to Us
Kyrgyzstan is no stranger to the Azkals, with their first encouter in October resulted in a shock win by the visitors. (Photo from the Football Federation of the Kyrgyz Republic)
With some of its players were also of dual nationality and thus played in leagues outside of their hometown, Kyrgyzstan's story in international football is much like the same with us when it comes to our players who are of mixed heritage line-up wise

Yet the visiting Central Asians is no stranger to us in the recent months, defeating them in our first encounter in Bishkek last September as part of a two-match package between their respective FAs, with the PFF hosting the return leg.

Since losing to the Azkals at their own turf, the White Falcons will enter the match on a high spirits, after their October performance (a draw to Lebanon and a close win over Turkmenistan) merited them by breaking into the top 100 of FIFA's rankings for the very first time at 99, their highest in their history. Surely enough they wanted to get even with their foes when they take the Rizal Memorial pitch on Wednesday to put a huge stain in the hosts' build-up for Southeast Asia's showpiece tournament.

Manager Aleksandr Krestinin will have a slightly tweaked XI for his side that faced the Azkals last September, with defender Valeri Kichin of Yenisey the key man missing for them but with striker Vitalij Lux and midfielder Pavel Sidorenko the main men to watch for Kyrgyzstan.

Philippines: An acid test
NO TIME TO PANIC. Thomas Dooley said this on November, but the match with Kyrgyzstan is a real test to back up our place as ASEAN's number one. (file)

Last month, Thomas Dooley said last October that there is no time to panic for the Azkals despite being wiped out by both Bahrain and North Korea whose rankings are much higher than us.

And the rankings said it right, the losses even take us a notch higher at 124, confirming our place as ASEAN's number 1 heading to November 19.

But to think of it, the friendly with Kyrgyzstan should serve as an acid test for the Azkals. With the long and draining UFL season done and dusted with, all eyes are with the national side, with fans kept hanging in the balance who will be the final 23 to be selected for the Suzuki Cup.

When the PFF released the side to face the Central Asians, the American tactician stuck to familiarity over form once again, with no newcomers into the squad whatsoever, with the core of the squad spread over just four UFL clubs. However, we had a key returnee in now-free agent Mark Hartmann, who came home after a decent stint with S-League's Geylang in which he was released at the end of the season despite firing for 8 goals in 11 matches for the Eagles.

The goalkeeping, a culprit of a disastrous homestand last month, will retain the same troika of Roland Muller, Patrick Deyto and Nick O'Donnell despite the stellar form of Nelson Gasic who was recently feted as the league's top netminder. With only Neil Etheridge the only omission from the side last September, the men with the mitts will have to work double time to prove their doubters wrong after a torrid time last month.

Amani Aguinaldo is yet to find a permanent partner at the center of defence, with Camelo Tacusalme declined the invitation to join in the training camp after a long and tiring season took a toll on his groin. For me, this will be one of the key talking points not just on this friendly, but on our chances in getting the ASEAN Championship as a whole.

With their gap between them are at 25 ranks, as well as they have the worse of the two when their results from past matches is being concerned, the Azkals have to get a result in order put the monkeys on our backs before the 19th. They have to work double time to prove to the Kyrgyz that the rankings is just a number and what they did to Bishkek is a not a fluke

With Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand looking at this match with curiosity and scouting intent, the Azkals have to walk the talk about being Southeast Asia's number 1 team ahead of the Suzuki Cup.

Call it close, but I sense that this will be a draw between the two sides the most.

Follow him on Twitter: @KevinLEstrada