MANILA, Philippines – Another daunting assignment. Another sensational upset victory.
On Tuesday night, the Philippine Azkals downed Kyrgyzstan 2-1 in a FIFA international friendly in front of 11,000 hostile fans in Spartak Stadium in the Kyrgyz capital.
It’s the second time in a row that the Azkals have defeated a higher-ranked opponent in a full international match. On March 29, they memorably defeated Korea DPR at home in a World Cup qualifier.
Misagh Bahadoran collected his fourth international goal early in the second half while Kevin Ingreso opened the scoring shortly before the halftime whistle. Vitalij Lux found the back of the net for Kyrgyzstan.
The result is all the more remarkable considering the team was missing two likely starters to injury in Patrick Reichelt and Simone Rota. Another usual starter, Stephan Schrock, also did not make the trip.
The match began with near-total dominance in possession for the home side – ranked 105th in the world coming into the match – as opposed to the Philippines’ 134th ranking. The Kyrgyzstan players made life miserable for the Filipino midfielders with a suffocating pressing game that resulted in numerous giveaways.
Before long, both Dennis Villanueva, starting at centerback for the first time for the Philippines, and right back Martin Steuble were shown yellow cards.
Kyrgyzstan did, however, see Ghanaian-born center half Daniel Tagoe depart the game within minutes of the kickoff with an apparent groin injury.
Etheridge was called on to make 3 top saves in the first 45 minutes as the home side bossed the game.
But with two minutes to go in the half, Daisuke Sato won a free kick near the corner of the left side of the penalty box. The ball was shipped to Ingreso who artfully first-timed the ball with his left foot into the far top corner to silence the home fans. The first international goal for the 23-year-old from Ceres La Salle came completely against the run of play.
Buoyed by the goal, the Philippines showed more energy in the second half with a pair of chances a few minutes in. Then in the 53rd, the Philippines doubled their advantage with Bahadoran’s glorious finish off a headed assist from debutante Junior Muñoz, who came in at the half for Ingreso.
But the Kyrgyzstan team responded 7 minutes later when Lux, the German-Kyrgyz forward, beat the Philippine offside trap to gather a perfectly weighted through-ball and coolly finish past Etheridge for 2-1.
“The Walsall keeper then repulsed a barrage of attempts from the home side as the clock wound down.”
With two minutes to go, substitute Simon Greatwich fouled a Kyrgyz player in the box, and the referee showed him a yellow and also awarded a penalty to the home team. But Kyrgyzstan was denied an equalizer when Etheridge correctly guessed where Lux would place his kick, diving to his left to parry the shot to safety.
The ensuing 5 minutes of stoppage time were nervy as Kyrgyzstan piled on the pressure. Etheridge was caught flapping at one cross but the Azkals’ defense came to his rescue. Then with just seconds to go, he made one last stop from the flank to preserve the win.
Since the victory is against a much-higher ranked opponent, the Philippines will likely climb a few notches once the next FIFA rankings come out.
Football.com.ph, a local football site, gave Etheridge the Man of The Match award after a fan vote via Twitter. His play on Tuesday echoed his legendary performance against Uzbekistan in a qualifier in March, when the Azkals lost 1-0. Only a series of saves by the veteran prevented a much heavier defeat.
Muñoz, from Kaya FC, was not the only debutante of the evening. Fitch Arboleda came on late for his maiden full senior cap after starring on numerous youth national teams. The Romblon native, apart from playing in the UFL for Stallion, is also the co-head coach of the football team of his alma mater, UE. His coaching partner there is an older brother, also named Fitch.
Jovin Bedic, also of Kaya, was given his second cap off the bench while Paolo Bugas was the final sub, earning his third appearance in a full Azkals match.
The PFF announced in a press conference earlier in the day that the Azkals will play two home matches in the October window. The team will entertain Bahrain on October 7 and then Korea DPR 3 days later. Both games will be held at the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bulacan. Kyrgyzstan will try to avenge this setback against the Philippines in Bulacan on November 9 in what could be the final tuneup before the Suzuki Cup group stage from November 19 to 25.
The match was not televised in the Philippines. Apparently the Kyrgyzstan officials told the PFF that their broadcaster was unable to devote resources for a satellite feed because the World Nomad Games were also taking place in the country, and needed to be televised. The Games, with participants from 40 nations with nomadic cultures, featured contests in eagle-hunting, stick-wrestling and goat-carcass polo. Steven Seagal was the guest of honor.
Azkals fans all over the world were able to catch the game on live streaming, although with only one camera, no commentary, and no instant replay.
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH. – Rappler.com