Azkals face Indonesia at Gelora Bung Karno with semifinal slot at stake

PYH, Azkals out for payback against Indonesia (1:28)

Phil Younghusband and the Philippine Azkals will look to erase the bitter memory of their 2010 loss when they return to the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium and take on Indonesia in their final game of the AFF Suzuki Cup 2018 group stage. (1:28)

JAKARTA - Phil Younghusband still remembers the last time the Azkals played an AFF Suzuki Cup match at the massive Gelora Bung Karno Stadium.

It was 2010, and the Azkals unexpectedly qualified for the semifinals of that year's Suzuki Cup. Waiting for them were the Merah Putih, as Indonesia's national men's football team is known, and 88,000 of their fans.

Indonesia took the first leg, 1-0, on a long strike from naturalized player Cristian Gonzales. The place was so loud, the Azkals couldn't hear each other on the pitch.

"I remember trying to shout to Jason De Jong, 'Pass me the ball'," said Younghusband on the eve of the Azkals' final Group B match of the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup. "He was only meters away from me and he still couldn't hear what I was saying. Hopefully we can have a different result to what we did in 2010."

To make matters worse, the second leg was also held at Gelora Bung Karno because Jose Mari Martinez, then the president of the Philippine Football Federation, declared that the Philippines had no suitable venue to host the Azkals' home game.

Same atmosphere, same result: Gonzales pushed Indonesia into the final in another 1-0 decision.

For the Azkals, it was an eye-opening experience.

"I think that's one of the memories that we do take from 2010," said Younghusband. "You have the atmosphere. I remember arriving here two hours before the game and it was already 75% full. It was something very new to a lot of our players. At the time I think it was around 88,000. Now with the new seating it's around 70,000."

It's not only the stadium capacity that's changed over the past eight years. Only Phil and his brother James remain from their 2010 squad, while Indonesia opted to go young with no holdovers and 22 of its 23 players below the age of 30, including 17 no older than 26.

Both teams' fortunes have also changed. While Indonesia finished runner-up two years ago and the Philippines was eliminated in the group stage, the Merah Putih will be entering Sunday night's match already out of contention with just three points out of a possible nine. The Azkals, on the other hand, have seven points and are tied for first place in the group with defending champion Thailand and will be through to the knockout stages with at least a draw or a Thailand win over Singapore.

The match will air live on ESPN5 with livestream on ESPN5.com and tv5.com.ph. A gamecast will also be available on ESPN5.com.

But no matter the crowd size or the points at stake, the Azkals know they will have to earn their semifinal spot.

"I think that game (in 2010) is very different to the game that's going to be played (Sunday). We have a chance to go through, that was a semifinal (in 2010)," Younghusband said. "Different teams, different players. So it's very difficult to actually compare or take anything from it because that was eight years ago. We'll be going into the game the same as the other games, trying to play our way."

"It's very important for us," echoed coach Sven-Goran Eriksson. "We saw their game against Thailand and I think they just had bad luck. They played the game very well. It could be okay to lose but that's a big risk."

The Merah Putih fell to the War Elephants 2-4, with one Thailand goal coming through a corner kick that somehow found its way to the back of the net without touching any other player. They also fell to Singapore, 0-1, although both losses were on the road.

Winning their final match at home would allow Indonesia to finish what has been a disappointing AFF Cup campaign on a positive note.

"It is very important for us even though we didn't qualify for the semifinals," said coach Bima Sakti, who was unexpectedly thrust into the role after erstwhile coach Luis Milla suddenly left the team early this month, through an interpreter. "We expect to end beautifully here."

"Some (Azkals) players are very tall," Sakti continued. That's why we'll anticipate mostly the crosses and the set pieces. And we know they organize in defense very well. I think we need some special tactics to break their defense."

Coming off a draw with Thailand in a well-played match where they controlled possession and had more shots on goal, the Azkals are cautiously optimistic about Sunday's match.

"We're looking forward to the game," Younghusband said. "We're excited. We know it will be a difficult game against a good and young team. It's always nice to come to Indonesia because everyone's so passionate about football."