Philippine Azkals make history

By Mike T. Limpag and Virgil B. Lopez

The Philippine Azkals made history by making it to the second round of the 2014 Fifa World Cup qualifiers after beating an overmatched Sri Lanka, 4-0, in the second leg of their first round match at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila on Sunday.

The win takes the Philippines to the second round of the qualifiers, a first for the Southeast Asian nation known for its passion for basketball and boxing.

Next up for the Azkals is the dangerous Kuwait, one of the toughest teams in Asia. Both countries will tangle in a home-and-away series on July 23 in Kuwait and 28 in Manila.

The Philippine Azkals’ starting line-up are composed of goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, Philip and James Younghusband, Robert Gier, Aly Borromeo, Manuel Ott, Stephan Shrock, Anton del Rosario, Angel Guirado, Emelio Chieffy Caligdong and Paul Mulders.

The Azkals wasted no time to outsmart their opponents as wingman Caligdong fired the opening salvo in the 19th minute through a strike from the left side of the box.

Striker Phil Younghusband flicked a header to Caligdong, who held the ball just inside the box before shooting with his weaker right foot for the first goal of the game.

“It was a team effort. I wouldn’t have been able to score if not for Phil and James,” Caligdong said in Filipino during the post-match interview on television.

In the 24th, Phil forced Sri Lankan keeper Manjula Fernando to a diving save with his 30-yard effort, and in the 29th missed again from point-blank range.

Philippines’ Angel Guirado and James Younghusband connected in the 31st but their effort was wasted, while Sri Lanka got a chance from a free kick just outside the box off an Anton del Rosario foul.

In the 37th, Stephen Shrock got into an altercation with the Sri Lankan winger and got booked for a yellow card.

Phil finally connected in the 42nd, albeit in controversial fashion, after the assistant referee called him for a foul just before his goal. However, the referee overruled his assistant and the Philippines got a 2-0 lead just before halftime.

In the 50th, Guirado continued the country’s onslaught with ease, hitting the ball straight to the goal area for 3-0 from a pass by James Younghusband.

In the 56th, the Azkals scored again, this time from the penalty spot courtesy of Phil Younghusband after Shrock got fouled inside the box.

Ian Araneta came on for Phil Younghusband in the 64th and had four shots late in the match. He immediately made his presence felt and had almost four clear shots at goal—sometimes with an open teammate just inside the box—but he missed them all.

Sunday’s game came at a cost as Shrock and defensive anchor and team captain Borromeo got a yellow card. The two, who also got booked in the first leg, will miss the first match in Kuwait.

Cheers and shrieks erupted in every possession as well as during the Azkals’ near goal chances.

Politicians such as Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri and businessmen in attendance also joined the sea of over 13,000-strong blue supporters in rallying behind the 11-man cast.

Phil Younghusband’s current love interest, actress Angel Locsin also came to support him.

Palace praises Azkals

“The entire nation was thrilled by the victory of our very own Philippine Azkals. I join our people in celebrating their 5-1 aggregate win over Sri Lanka,” President Benigno Aquino III said in a statement following the victory of the Philippine Azkals over the Sri Lankan Brave Reds.

“To the Philippine Azkals, may the teamwork you displayed today on both sides of the pitch lead to more than just future victories; may you continue to inspire our youth to pursue teamwork, and the true spirit of sportsmanship that, win or lose, inspires excellence on and off the field-for if the Filipino people can work together, and if we can make the most of our inherent creativity and skill, then our victories as a country can extend far beyond the football pitch,” the President added.

“I urge you to continue to bring our countrymen together and give them even more things to be proud of. I wish you the best of luck against Kuwait!” he said.

More work ahead

Meanwhile, German coach Michael Weiss saw a tough road ahead especially against higher ranked Kuwait (101), which is obviously more experienced than the Philippine contingent (159).

“We have to play smart and we don’t want to waste our energy for nothing. We have to analyze the tapes (Kuwait’s past games) and do our best. Every game is really different,” he told reporters.

Weiss said they are going to fly to Bahrain for some tune-up games and acclimatize themselves of the scorching desert heat.

Asked if what would be team’s chances, losing Sri Lankan coach Jang Jung said: “The second round is tough. With that, the Philippines has to work harder.” (Jill Beltran/AP/Sun.Star Cebu/Sunnex) Published in Sunstar.com.ph