Azkals secure win, face crucial match ahead

Mia Domingo

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Now that the Azkals have defeated India 2-0, all eyes are set on their next match against Tajikistan -- which will determine if the Philippines stays in the tournament or goes home

Azkals players and a fan hold the Philippine flag up high after the Dream Cup. December 3, 2011. Rupert Ambil.

MANILA, Philippines — And it was a double celebration for the Philippine men’s football team as they turned back the India Blue Tigers squad, 2-0 in their second game in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup in Kathmandu, Nepal on Sunday, March 11.
It was also the birthday of Azkals head coach Michael Weiss — and what a fitting birthday gift the victory was.
Drawing utmost inspiration from the endless support they have been receiving in and outside of the country, the Philippine Azkals regained glory after bouncing back from a 2-nil loss at the hands of the powerful North Korean team, to force a knockout match against Tajikistan on Tuesday, March 13.
Both teams are locked in at the second place spot after Tajikistan lost to North Korea earlier.
The defending champions North Korea already carved their way to the semifinals of the tournament, while the Philippines’ game against Tajikistan will determine who will join North Korea in the semis.
Two for Phil
Barotac Nuevo native Chieffy Caligdong of the Philippine Air Force team in the United Football League returned to action as team captain, after being sidelined by a leg injury a couple of weeks back.
Being the veteran on the field, he navigated the progressive attack of the Azkals, who are vying for a semifinals stint in the AFC Challenge Cup.
At the 10th minute mark, James Younghusband received University of Alabama Law School student Jason Sabio’s throw-in through a header that was directed toward Phil Younghusband’s way.
The younger Younghusband then forcefully guided his left foot for the first goal of the Philippines.
This was followed up with another goal also by Phil, this time using his right foot at the 73rd minute past Indian goalkeeper Karanjit Singh.
Again, this was off a feed from older brother James. The goals were Phil’s 19th and 20th in international competition.

Meanwhile, the win cut short the dreams of India, effectively booting the 2008 AFC champions out of the tournament.
A number of attempts from the Azkals’ offensive end in the first half included Juan Luis Guirado’s attempt from a Carly De Murga feed, but missed.
Another attack from Phil Younghusband at the 35th minute went over the crossbar.
According to Weiss, putting veteran defender Rob Gier at the back, and Juan Luis Guirado and Paul Mulders holding midfield proved to be beneficial for the Azkals in today’s game. J.L Guirado has recently been playing defense.
The Blue Tigers made several attempts but the unity showed by the Azkals in defense was a notch higher than usual.
Thanks in large part to the skills and swiftness of Azkals goalie Neil Etheridge, who was allowed by his mother ball club Fulham FC to serve the Philippines in this all-important series, the team now has a shot in securing a slot in the semifinals in their first ever stint in the prestigious tournament.
In the past, the Azkals have struggled with keeping their defense tight and consistent. Etheridge’s crucial saves have kept the hopes of the Philippines alive.
Targeting Tajikistan
Weiss, who turned 52 on game day, was pleased with his team’s performance.
“I’m very, very happy with the result although I feel we can play much, much better,” he said. “We are in the same position with Tajikistan (at the second spot of the group) and it might come to a shootout. So we have to be very careful and play smart against them.”
The advantage and momentum will be on the side of the Azkals, who are coming off a win when they take on Tajikistan on Tuesday.
Tajikistan is coming off a 2-nil loss to North Korea.
The Azkals face a tough test ahead, however. Tajikistan is ranked 11 places higher than the Azkals in world rankings. It sits on the 145th spot, while the Philippines is 156th.
After both teams defeated India by two goals, the same number of goals they each conceded to North Korea, both sides will meet on the pitch dead even.
A win will put the Philippines through to the next round, while a draw will lead to a penalty shootout. –

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