By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
Senior Reporter
WITH the prospects of them advancing to the knockout stage of their debut AFC Asian Cup campaign no longer too high, the Philippine Azkals are channelling their focus to at least saving a win when they take on Kyrgyz Republic later this week in their final game in group play of the prestigious continental football spectacle.
Bowing to China People’s Republic, 3-0, last Friday in their Group C encounter, the Azkals now are at two defeats with no wins to show for and just have to hope they land among the four best third-placed teams in the groupings with a win over Kyrgyzstan on Jan. 16 to advance to the next phase.
While its fate of advancing in the tournament is still to be determined, the Philippine men’s national football team is now focusing on what it can control and win over fellow Asian Cup newbie Kyrgyzstan to bag a breakthrough win to build on moving forward.
“Overall, in the two games we have played, we have shown that we can play football. We are not going home yet, and we will see what happens in the last group stage game,” Azkals coach Sven-Goran Eriksson, whose team lost, 1-0, to Korea Republic in its opener on Jan. 7, was quoted as saying by the official AFC Asian Cup Website after their game against China.
But the veteran football coach, who had stops in England, Mexico, Ivory Coast and China, said they could have done better in their game against the Chinese but nonetheless proud of the efforts of the Azkals.
“It seems strange maybe but I’m rather proud of our team even if we lost 3-nil. We played very well, and we should have taken the lead. Before the game I identified three China players who were very dangerous, and Wu Lei was one of those. He scored two great goals as we did not pay him enough attention and we paid the price because of that,” said Mr. Eriksson.
Against China, the Azkals fell, 1-0, in the 40th minute after Mr. Wu punctured in for the Chinese. The forward then doubled their lead with another goal in the 66th minute.
For good measure, China added a third goal in the 80th minute care of substitute Yu Dabao to complete the win that thrust the team to the next round of the competition.
For veteran Azkals player Phil Younghusband, the first goal they surrendered in the first half proved to be telling and something they just could not recover from.
“Once China got the first goal it was always going to be difficult because we play a 5-4-1 with the aim of keeping the scoreline goalless as long as possible,” Mr. Younghusband was quoted as saying by the AFC.
“Against Korea Republic we were able to keep it at 0-0 until around the 70th minute, but with China scoring in the first half it made things harder for us. You start to chase the equalizer, chase the game, and lose spaces and lose discipline. And good teams are able to exploit that,” he added.
But the national player, who has represented the Philippines in over a hundred international matches, highlighted that there is still much to play for against Krygyzstan especially for a team like the Philippines, which is still carving its place in the Asian football scene.
“We have to win the next game. We have played [Kyrgyzstan] twice in the last few years. Played them away, played them home and we got two wins. But this is a different stage, they may have different players, we have different players. It’s a different arena,” said Mr. Younghusband.
“It will be a difficult game and they have some players we’ll need to watch out for, but we’ll now have time to prepare for all those things ahead of the match,” he added.