By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
Senior Reporter
THE Philippine men’s national football team’s era under coach Sven-Goran Eriksson sailed off well with the Azkals winners at the onset of their 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup bid with a 1-0 victory over Singapore in Group B play at the Panaad Park and Football Stadium in Bacolod City on Tuesday.
In his first official game as Azkals coach, Mr. Eriksson guided the team to the win that saw Patrick Reichelt providing the marginal goal in the 78th minute, and the former England coach was left impressed with how the whole team showed “good fighting spirit” throughout.
“We got the three points but it was not an easy game. Singapore has very good players and they played very direct. It’s very difficult to play against them but I think we had a very good game technically and we had good fighting spirit and I’m very happy for the whole country and our team,” said Mr. Eriksson after their win that notched for them the full three points that had them sharing early group leadership.
The match against Singapore was tightly fought in the opening half with both teams having their chances but could not consummate them, resulting in a nil-nil score at the break.
In the second half, the Azkals came out more aggressive and made telling adjustments in their attack, taking the fight to Singapore and in the process found themselves in solid scoring opportunities.
Their effort eventually paid dividends in the 78th minute when Mr. Reichelt converted a pass from captain Phil Younghusband, going through traffic and puncturing the goal, sending the hometown crowd into celebration.
The visitors tried to get back the goal for the remainder of regulation and in the added five minutes and had its chances, but the Philippine defense would hold its own to preserve the win.
Successful in their first plunge in this year’s edition of the Suzuki Cup, Mr. Eriksson said they hope to build on what he considered to be an important win and expressed bullishness that the team would only improve as the tournament moves forward.
“It was a very good win, a very important win against one of the top teams in the tournament. So these three points are very important for us. I think we deserved it. The boys deserved it. I think we were the better team and I’m very happy. It’s a good start,” said Mr. Eriksson, who was signed by Azkals in October in what was hailed as a coup for the Philippines.
“The goal is first to get through the group stage and the win today helps that. I definitely have more knowledge now than a week ago after working with the players,” he added.
Next stop for the Azkals is a match with Timor-Liste on Nov. 17 in Malaysia.
In the Suzuki Cup, the top two teams in the two groupings at the end of the home-and-away group play advance to the knockout crossover semifinals.
The Philippines is bracketed in what many consider as the “Group of Death” as apart from Singapore and Timor-Liste it is lumped with defending champion Thailand and runner-up Indonesia.
In Group A are Malaysia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.