Uzbeks too much for toothless Azkals

By Cedelf P. Tupas | Inquirer Sports |

Toothless on attack and a step slower on defense, the Philippine Azkals absorbed a 0-3 loss to Uzbekistan’s Olympic side Saturday night in an exhibition match kicking off their Middle East Tour at the Al Nasr Sports Club in Dubai.

Missing several key players who were either injured or unavailable, the Azkals’ weak points were exposed by the Uzbeks who are closing in on one of the three Asian berths in the London Olympics.

Azkals coach Michael Weiss refused to dwell on the loss, stressing that the lessons learned from the match will only make them stronger for the AFC Challenge Cup next month.

“It is a defeat that doesn’t harm us because we are planning to be strong on March 9 in our opening match,” Weiss was quoted by Dubai-based sports website

The Azkals flew to Doha, Qatar, Sunday for another tuneup match Monday against first division club Al-Ahli.

Save for a couple of speculative chances, the Azkals were chasing shadows all game long as the Uzbeks flaunted incisive passing and enterprising play.

A late injury to Rob Gier and the unavailability of Ray Jonsson forced coach Weiss to parade a makeshift backline, and the Uzbeks exploited this to the hilt.

Juan Luis Guirado made his Azkals debut, playing at the back with Jason Sabio, Carli de Murga and skipper James Younghusband, a right winger, who was forced to play rightback.

Kenja Turaev outran the entire Azkals defense from the halfline before slotting it past Roland Muller in the 12th minute for the opening goal.

The Azkals found the Uzbeks’ pace and patterns difficult to handle and another quick sequence saw Ivan Nagaev firing home from the left flank three minutes before halftime.

Phil Younghusband managed to test the Uzbek keeper from long range and substitute Ian Araneta also forced a diving stop in the second half.

Nagaev doubled his tally late in the game, firing a quick snapshot to beat Muller, who had at least three spectacular saves to keep the scoreline close.

“We fielded younger players in the first half and a lack of coordination and a few mistakes from us got punished severely and quickly,” Weiss said.