Philippines coach Thomas Dooley is confident his side will have no lack of motivation in their 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final first leg clash with Thailand on Saturday.
The Azkals consolidated their status as one of Southeast Asia’s big guns after qualifying for the last four of the region’s premier international tournament for the third time in a row, after finishing second in Group A behind Vietnam.
However, things do not get any easier as their next task will be to see off three-time champions and favourites Thailand, who were the only side to win all three of their group games after beating Singapore, Malaysia and Myanmar in Group B.
To make matters worse for Philippines, they have lost to the Thais in each of their previous 14 meetings dating all the way back to 1972, but Dooley was in defiant mood as he stressed that his charges would be looking to set that right at the Rizal Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
“The players are confident ahead of the game as there has been something in the air for years that we have to correct,” he said on the tournament’s official website.
“I can promise that every man on the field will do their best to correct that.
“These are the kind of big games we want to play.”
Dooley is no stranger to the big stage having won 81 caps for United States, as well as captaining them at the 1998 FIFA World Cup.
So far in this tournament, his talisman has been Loyola Meralco Sparks star Phil Younghusband, who notched two goals and three assists in their opening wins over Laos and Indonesia, which helped them qualify for the semis with a game to spare.
Still only 27, Younghusband is already the Azkals’ all-time top scorer with 42 goals in 68 caps and was part of the side that reached the knockout round at both the 2010 and 2012 Suzuki Cups.
But the prolific striker admitted Philippines should no longer be satisfied with just advancing to the last four, but instead be looking to go all the way and win the title.
“We are all very excited about the game and it is good to be back in the semis,” he said.
“But for everything that has gone on in the last four years and the growth of Philippine football, we are still missing a big title.
“For us players, the motivation is high.
“It is never good enough to be in the semis; you want to go a step further or even two steps further and win the competition.
“If you want to win you have to beat the best teams in the tournament and the best teams in Southeast Asia.”
It remains to be seen if Dooley will be able to call upon the services of centre-back Juan Luis Guirado and forward Patrick Reichelt, who both picked up injuries in the 4-0 win over Indonesia and were not in action in their final Group A game – a 3-1 loss to Vietnam.
Philippines will be familiar with the War Elephants considering they faced off in a pre-tournament friendly on November 9, although they were beaten 3-0 on that occasion courtesy of strikes from Monkol Tossagri, Kroekrit Thaweekarn and a Rob Gier own-goal.