KATHMANDU—What was expected to be a blowout turned out to be a showcase of the Philippines’ ability to absorb pressure from a top-level Asian side.
But a vastly superior North Korea struck two quick-fire second-half goals to take the fight out of the Azkals, 2-0, at the start of Group B play Friday in the AFC Challenge Cup at the Hawlchok Stadium.
Goalkeeper Neil Etheridge saved a penalty in a highlight of a heroic defensive display by the Azkals in the first half before the North Koreans finally broke them down with a torrid second-half assault.
“We fought very bravely and I’m very satisfied,” said Azkals coach Michael Weiss.
“We have to take all factors into consideration. 2-0 is a very good result against a team ranked 60 places higher than us. With the means that we have, we could not challenge a team that a year and a half ago played in the World Cup.
Pak Nam-chol, the hardworking midfielder, and substitute Jang Kuk-chol scored 11 minutes apart and the 2010 World Cup qualifiers kept the Azkals at bay the rest of the way with their quick passing and combination plays.
A threat with his smart running without the ball, Pak fired a header past Etheridge in the 58th minute as the Azkals grew weary defending their left flank, before Jang delivered the sucker punch—a volley— as Etheridge fumbled a high cross.
Jang looked to have actually held on to Etheridge in the leadup to the goal that forced the Fulham FC reserve goalkeeper to lose grip.
North Korea came into the game as the heavy favorite, having reached the World Cup finals in 2010 in South Africa.
The victors’ coach, Yun Jong-so, was impressed by the Azkals’ fighting performance.
“There’s much development and I think they played beyond our expectations,” said Yun.
It was the Azkals who carved up the first real chance in the match.
Phil Younghusband was released by a great ball from Angel Guirado but his right-footed effort from a tight angle was blocked by North Korea’s veteran goalkeeper Ri Myong-guk.
It was one-way traffic from there for North Korea as it laid siege on the Azkals’ goalmouth.
Etheridge was in superb form, though. The pressure paid off for North Korea as Jang Mwong-il looked to have gone down easily on a tackle by Misagh Bahadoran, prompting Indian referee Pratap Singh to point to the penalty spot in the 18th minute.
Pak Song-chol sent Etheridge the wrong way, but the Azkals got a reprieve when the North Koreans were adjudged to have encroached inside the box too early. Pak struck it low and hard but Etheridge prevailed, palming the ball away.