MANILA, Philippines – If only the game could end after 45 minutes.
It would have been a fitting finish for the Philippine men’s football team, which held North Korea scoreless for a 0-0 tally at the half.
But an impressive second half spurt by North Korea easily allowed the defending champions to edge out the Philippine Azkals, 2-nil in the opening day of the 2012 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup in Kathmandu, Nepal.
North Korea team captain Pak Nam Chol snapped the challenging defense of the Philippines that held them scoreless in the first half, by scoring a header at the 57th minute off a cross by Jong Il Gun.
It was followed up by Jang Kuk Chol, who took advantage of a fumble by Azkals goalie Neil Etheridge’s. He easily scored North Korea’s second goal at the 70th minute with his right foot.
The Philippines had a couple of chances to break into the scoring column in the first half, through attempts from Angel Guirado and striker Phil Younghusband — but the superb and sticky defense applied by the North Koreans was too much for the Azkals.
The North Koreans stomped their superiority over the Azkals, blocking all attempts by the Philippines. Guirado had a chance at the Philippines’ first goal after receiving a feed from James Younghusband at the 39th minute, but missed.
At the 73rd minute, the Azkals saw another attempt by Chieffy Caligdong.
Caligdong could have cracked the first goal for the Azkals but it was intercepted right away by an aggressive North Korean defense.
The final Azkal attack came from James Younghusband, who had a chance to score on a header at the 82nd minute, but North Korea’s goalkeeper also had his eyes on the ball as he made a huge save.
The Azkals’ defense stayed tight throughout, as the team was forced to play a more defensive role — especially in the first half when a merciless North Korean team continued to pressure the Azkals. Etheridge was the Azkals’ saving grace, as the FC Fulham keeper warded off goal after goal, including a sensational save of a penalty kick by North Korea on the 17th minute.
A shift toward more aggressive play came in the second half, resulting in yellow cards for both Lexton Moy and Guirado, but the more experienced and more talented North Korea team proved to be too much, even for the Azkals who played with intensity and stubborn determination.
Better than expected
While the game was tough, Weiss offered reserved praise for his team’s performance.
“Not celebrating but we have to take all factors in consideration,” he said. “2-0 is a realistic result for a team ranked 60 places higher.”
North Korea is currently at the 111th spot in the FIFA World Rankings while the Azkals are at 156th.
The head coach of North Korea Yun Jong So also lauded the Azkals, admitting he did not expect the Azkals to play as well as they did. He acknowledged much development in the Philippine team’s game.
Azkals team captain Aly Borromeo, who is sidelined by a knee injury, also celebrated his team on Twitter.
“We just played a World Cup team and lost only by 2 goals! We are moving forward! #Progress,” he tweeted.
The starting XI for the Philippines were Neil Etheridge, Juan Luis Guirado, Jason Sabio, Ray Jonsson, Carly de Murga, Misagh Bahadoran, Marwin Angeles, Paul Mulders, Angel Guirado, James Younghusband and Phil Younghusband. Caligdong, Moy and defender Rob Gier saw some action as well.
The Azkals still have a shot for the next round, but will have to win their next two matches against India and Tajikistan respectively. They play India on Sunday at 4:30pm Manila time. – Rappler.com