SEA Games: Vietnam XI downs Under-23 AzkalsBy Cedelf P. Tupas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Under-23 Azkals flirted with a huge upset before absorbing a 1-3 defeat to powerhouse Vietnam at the start of the football competition of the Southeast Asian Games at the Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta.
The Azkals took a shock lead in the 37th minute through Fil-German midfielder Manny Ott, whose strike from 12 yards from a pass from Mark Hartmann found the bottom corner.
It was a stunning turn of events for these Azkals as Ott only confirmed his participation at the last minute. Vietnam also had plenty of possession and tested the makeshift Azkals defensive line early on.
Still, the goal was a reward for the Azkals resolute defending and the stellar performance of Roland Muller early on.
The goal also brought back eerie memories of the upset that the senior team pulled off against Vietnam in last year’s Suzuki Cup in Hanoi.
Jeff Christiaens’ could only fire into the post early in the second half as the Azkals saw little of the ball, pinned into their own half.
Vietnam, however, refused to letup on attack and in the 62nd minute the Azkals defense was finally unlocked albiet by the help of its own captain.
Matthew Hartmann, selected to skipper the team for this tournament, headed the ball into his own net for Vietnam’s equalizer.
Vietnam finally went ahead in the 72nd minute after Muller, working extra hard to offset his defensive line’s frailties, could only punch the ball into the path of a Vietnamese player who had the easiest of chances to slot into an open net.
The rout was completed in injury time when the Vietnamese striker found space to shoot past Hartmann and beat Muller.
The Azkals hope to bounce back against Timor Leste on Monday.
Only the top two teams from the group will advance to the semifinals. The other teams in the Azkals’ bracket are Myanmar, Laos and Brunei.