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Azkals expecting 'very intimidating' Rizal Memorial Stadium in WCQ clash vs. Vietnam

By Ivan Saldajeno

MANILA--The Philippine Azkals will find out if, at least for one night, the "10K Strong" challenge will be a success or not as they take on Vietnam to begin their quest in the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers on Thursday night at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

However, as of last week, the Azkals are on track to fill the venue with 10,000 or more fans as around 60 percent of the tickets have already been bought.

Some private companies even took part in helping the campaign happen like Light Rail Manila Corporation, the operator of LRT 1.

LRMC gave away tickets to lucky fans who shared their happiest moments while riding the train.

For team captain Neil Etheridge, as early as the eve of the match on Wednesday, he is excited to see the campaign come to fruition.

"I'm excited that this is happening once again," Etheridge said in the pre-match press conference at the Ninoy Aquino Stadium, referring to the anticipated mammoth crowd.

He also said that this should now be the standard in the Azkals' next home matches after football took "a little bit of a step back" in recent years.

"This is what it should be like in home games for us with the media attention and obviously the campaign we have now," Etheridge further said.

On the other hand, head coach Michael Weiss already sees the "10K Strong" campaign as a success.

"It was a strong, good movement and statement from the PFF (Philippine Football Federation) and maybe under the guidance of the new general secretary (Coco Torre) who wants to prove himself, and we benefit from that. It will be an advantage for us, no question," Weiss said.

He added, "I'm very much looking forward to it like a child going to the Christmas season."

With the stakes of the match, though, expect a good number of Vietnamese fans to be in attendance as well, which could mean the Rizal Memorial Stadium might be jam-packed barring the inclement weather in Metro Manila right now.

Weiss vowed that the Azkals would return the favor by delivering a strong performance at home.

"We are working to get back the trust of the people with a top performance, whether it is enough for a win or a draw. We will be there. That's for sure," Weiss said.

On the other hand, Etheridge said that even the expected huge home crowd could be "very intimidating" enough for both squads.

"I said to them, 'Be careful what you wish for. It's a very intimidating place to come and play.' So that's a place that we want to really pack out tomorrow, and we wanna give the best performance that we possibly can," Etheridge said.

All roads now lead to the actual number of fans who will watch the match.

Follow him on X: @IvanSaldajeno

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