By Cedelf P. Tupas
A friendly match against hastily formed UFL All-Star team turned out to be a cold reality check for the Philippine Azkals.
An injury-time goal by Sudanese striker Izo El-Habbib lifted the All-Stars to a thrilling 4-3 upset over the Azkals on Sunday night in a friendly match played before a crowd of 10,000 at the University of Makati pitch.
The Azkals, after taking the lead through Chieffy Caligdong’s 10th minute opener, needed to muster two equalizing goals until El-Habbib, who plays for Global Smartmatic, struck a thunderous shot from a tight angle to break the nationals’ hearts.
Eric Dagroh, Kaya Cignal’s Ivorian striker, scored twice and Mark Hartmann, the prolific Fil-British attacker for the Loyola Meralco Sparks, added another goal for the UFL All-Stars, who thoroughly exposed gaps on the Azkals defense.
“I’m a little disappointed,” said Azkals coach Michael Weiss. “Its an indication that we have to improve. We lost a match that we shouldn’t have lost.”
The Azkals are preparing for the 2014 Fifa World Cup Qualifying first-round home-and-away against Sri Lanka on June 29 and July 3.
Simon Greatwich equalized for the Azkals with a follow up on James Younghusband’s saved header in the 62nd minute, before substitute Ian Araneta tied the match for the last time in the 84th minute by heading home a cross from Caligdong.
Azkals skipper Aly Borromeo and Jason Sabio—paired up at central defense for the first time since the 3-0 win over Bangladesh in the AFC Challenge Cup—committed costly errors that Dagroh was quick to pounce on.
Borromeo was dispossesed by El-Habbib at a dangerous area and Dagroh turned Sabio for a cool finish in the 41st minute, evening the match at 1-1 at halftime.
Hartmann’s curling free kick from just outside the box sailed into the top corner to give UFL a 2-1 lead, after Sabio, hobbled by a shin injury, fouled Dagroh.
Another missed clearance by Borromeo handed Dagroh another opening in the 75th minute and the Ivorian made no mistake slotting the ball past Etheridge.
“Some players in the defensive line didn’t have their best day,” Weiss said. “It may sound ridiculous but I think we clearly dominated the match.”
The match, a season-ending showcase of the league, also turned out to be a tribute for retiring national player Yanti Barsales, who captained the Azkals in the first 15 minutes, before he was substituted by newcomer Nathaniel Burkey, a Fil-Am striker.
The Philippine Team that won against then defending champion Malaysia in the Southeast Asian Games in 1991 was also honored at half-time. Inquirer Sports