Azkals bring home bronze, pride for PH

Natashya Gutierrez
After a tremendous run at the AFC Challenge Cup, the Azkals finish 3rd in the prestigious tournament

PINOY PRIDE. Azkals wave the Philippine flag after their game against LA Galaxy. December 3, 2011. Rupert Ambil.

MANILA, Philippines – 3rd place it is.

The men’s Philippine football team is coming home from Kathmandu, Nepal with the bronze medal, after besting Palestine 4-3 in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup playoffs.

Azkals star striker Phil Younghusband scored the first goal as usual, early on in the game on the 3rd minute. Younghusband broke through 3 defenders and knocked in the ball with his left foot, which rolled into the bottom left of the goal.

But Palestine fired right back. Midfielder Abdulhamid F M Abuhabib scored the equalizer on the 21st minute, with a beautiful shot that netted the top right of the goal.

Palestine’s celebration was short-lived.

Chieffy Caligdong sprinted down for an attempt a couple of minutes later, only to be fouled by a Palestinian defender inside the box. The tackle earned the Azkals a penalty kick.

Younghusband took the kick for the team, blasting the ball into the bottom right of the goal on the 24th minute, his 23rd international goal and his 6th of the tournament. The goal put the Azkals up 2-1.

As if unsatisfied, the Azkals punctuated their lead right before the end of the first half. 

Angel Guirado ran up to the goal, causing keeper Ramzi S A Saleh to commit. Guirado drew Saleh in, just to kick the ball past him.

The ball rolled in on the 41st minute, posting a 3-1 lead for the Azkals at the half.

2nd half action

Abuhabib ignited hope in Palestine yet again on the 67th minute when he managed to take a shot that went past the defender marking him, through to yet another defender by the post and past Azkals goalkeeper Eduardo Sacapano.

The shot put Palestine within one goal of equalizing.

But the Azkals responded phenomenally with their own goal.

Juan Luis Guirado hammered the ball into the goal from the center on the 68th minute, despite being flanked by 2 defenders to make the score 4-2.

The determined Palestinians however, showed they were not done fighting yet.

Striker Fahed A F Attal faked a defender and took a shot with his right foot. The ball found the back of the net on the 78th minute.

It was the final goal of the game.

There was much action in the first 45 minutes of the match, as both teams came out strong in an attempt to draw first blood.

Palestine had several attempts on goal as well because of breaks in the defense, but reserve goalkeeper Sacapano had spectacular saves to ward off Palestine.

It was Sacapano’s first game of the tournament, after first choice goalkeeper Neil Etheridge was suspended for a red card in the semis.

In contrast, the 2nd half started slower, with a much calmer pace until Abuhabib’s shot, that triggered more aggressive plays from both sides.

End of historic run

The Azkals have had a tremendous run in the AFC Challenge Cup, battling their way through the group stage and qualifying — on their first appearance in the tournament ever — for the semi-finals.

The Azkals entered the tournament as the lowest seeded team.

After booting 2006 champions Tajikistan and 2008 winners India from the tournament, they found themselves in the top 4.

While a strong, skilled Turkmenistan side ultimately cut the dreams of the Azkals for a finals bid, the Philippine team left everything on the pitch in the playoffs.

Like the Philippines, Palestine has made history and came to the playoffs with as much thirst to make their country proud after being routed for the finals. Palestine is the first West Asian team to make it to the playoffs in the history of the tournament.

The Azkals are expected to rise in world rankings after the team’s phenomenal performance. – Rappler.com

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