By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
BACK in 2010, the Philippine men’s national football team willed itself to national and international consciousness with an upset 2-0 win over then defending AFF Suzuki Cup champion Vietnam to barge into the semifinals in what is now known as the “Miracle in Hanoi.”
It is something the Philippine Azkals are now asked to replicate if they are to make history and advance to their first-ever Suzuki Cup final appearance.
Facing The Golden Stars today in a key semifinal match at the My Dinh Stadium in Hanoi, the Azkals have to come up with the same result eight years ago to stave off elimination in this year’s edition of the biennial regional meet and advance to the next stage.
They found themselves in such a situation after bowing to Vietnam, 2-1, in the first leg of their semifinal match on Dec. 2 in Bacolod City.
The Philippines tried its best to get the early pairing lead but the visiting side was not to be denied and was solid throughout the first leg.
Vietnam did not waste much time to get on the scoreboard last time around with Nguyen Anh Duc giving his side the early 1-0 lead in the 12th minute.
It tried to add on to it but the Philippine defense would hold its own for the rest of the opening half.
The Azkals made a last-ditch effort to level the count before the halftime break and was rewarded accordingly with Patrick Reichelt converting a goal off a pass from captain Phil Younghusband inside the three minutes added time in the first half of the contest.
Just like in the opening half, Vietnam would strike early as Phan Van Duc scored just three minutes into the restart.
The Azkals tried to get back the goal they gave but The Golden Stars would continue to frustrate them even as Vietnam had its chances to end up with a bigger lead but could not complete them.
Four minutes were added after regulation but no Philippine comeback was to come as it slumped to the defeat.
While recognizing that the road to the Suzuki Cup final got tougher with their defeat in the first leg, Azkals coach Sven-Goran Eriksson is still optimistic of his team finding its way back and getting the job done.
“Vietnam are the favorites before this game, and now they’re even bigger. I think we did okay today. We still have 90 minutes to go so we’ll see,” said Mr. Eriksson following the first leg.
For Mr. Younghusband, who was part of the team in 2010, their predicament could actually work in their favor, as it could serve as a major catalyst for them to go even harder in the game.
“It means that we now need to go for things in the second game and I think that will suit us better knowing that we have to go and score rather than sitting back,” Mr. Younghusband was quoted as saying by the official AFF Suzuki Cup Website.
But nonetheless he recognizes that it is not going to be easy and that they really have to take the fight to Vietnam if they are to succeed.
“They get so many bodies behind the ball that they’re difficult to break down and maybe if we didn’t score we would’ve gone into the next game thinking it’s a bigger challenge. But knowing that we can score against them gives us confidence going into the second leg,” the Philippine captain said.
“They’re a young team and I think we showed today (first leg) that we can get at them and create chances. And if we can stop them from scoring we’ve got a chance so for me I think it’s all to play for – it’s a one goal difference and we’ve seen bigger miracles in football before and I think we still have a chance,” he added.
The second leg of the semifinal match between the Azkals and Vietnam will be shown live beginning at 8:30 p.m. over ESPN5 and livestream over ESPN5.com.
By Michael Angelo S. Murillo