MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine men’s under-22 football team will not settle for anything less than a decisive victory as the Azkals seek to remain in contention for a semifinal slot in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games.
It has been 28 years since the Philippines made it to the semifinals, the last when Bacolod city native Norman Fegidero steered the national squad to the Final Four with a 1-0 victory over Malaysia.
That particular win earned the Philippines its first entry in the win-or-go-home semis of the regional biennial sporting meet.
Interestingly, the Azkals were in the same scenario last Friday, November 29, when veteran midfielder Stephan Schrock put the Azkals on the scoreboard off a fantastic corner kick at the 72nd minute, defeating the six-time SEA Games football champion Malaysia, 1-0.
Schrock’s corner kick got deflected by Malaysian keeper Muhammad Haziq Nadzli, but it bounced off the back of his teammate Muhammad Danial Amier Norisham, accidentally sending the ball past them.
After absorbing a 1-1 draw against Cambodia on the opening day that was followed by a 2-1 defeat to Myanmar in their second outing, Azkals head coach Goran Milojevic knew that his troop had to get something to reignite their eagerness to reach the semifinals.
Fortunately, his prized wards did just that and stepped up to the plate.
“This was a very difficult match because a negative result would have taken us out of the running for the semifinals” he said. “We had to be proactive to win, and the players did well to follow the instructions given.”
“In all honesty, we did well in all 3 games thus far, and we deserved the win. We are very happy with the result,” Milojevic added.
Milojevic admitted he was surprised with the blatant lapses the Malaysian contingent committed early in the match, prompting his Filipino booters to capitalize on the situation.
“We did our scouting, and we knew that Malaysia is a team with a lot of qualities,” he said. “We were surprised a little bit by Malaysia’s formation, and we had to go for a very offensive approach. Thankfully, the players accepted and applied themselves as to how we wanted.”
The Azkals return to action on Wednesday, December 4, at the Biñan Football Stadium in Laguna against Timor-Leste in their last match of Group A’s single-round elimination.
The Milojevic-mentored brigade stands behind Malaysia at 4th place in the standings after the latter defeated Timor-Leste, 5-0, on Monday, December 2.
With Myanmar earning the first semifinal berth, Cambodia, Malaysia, and the Philippines are in a tight race for the remaining spot in the next round.
As their medal hopes hang by a string, Milojevic still remains confident that the Azkals will make it to the knockout stage.
“It’s going to be an uphill battle for all of us, but we are determined to close it out with a win,” he said. “Mathematically, we still have the chance to advance to the semifinals. Surely, we will do our best.” – Rappler.com