The long wait for an international football title finally ended for the Philippines Saturday night amid a festive atmosphere at the historic Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila.
The Philippine Azkals broke through early to defeat Chinese Taipei, 3-1, and clinch the Paulino Alcantara Peace Cup title at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium, the country’s first international championship in 99 years.
Fil-German Dennis Wolf opened things up for the Philippines in the 10th minute.
OJ Porteria made it 3-nil after Chieffy Caligdong struck one in the 43rd minute.
Chinese Taipei pulled back in the 52nd after a miscommunication.
But that lone goal by Taiwan was the only one conceded by the Azkals, who dominated Macau, 5-0, last Thursday.
The Philippines took home the crown by going undefeated with nine points.
The 29-year-old Wolf finished with four goals and emerged as the tournament’s top scorer and Most Valuable Player, while Eduard Sacapano and Jeff Christiaens were named best goalkeeper and best defender, respectively.
Matt Uy, who only arrived from the United States last week, excelled with his vision and composure and was adjudged best midfielder by the technical study group of the tournament.
Chinese Taipei, which finished second in the tournament, had a chance to score again on a penalty but Sacapano, the best keeper, timed the attempt perfectly in the 93rd minute.
No top stars
Making the win impressive though was the fact that the team played minus some of its top stars.
Europe-based players like first choice goalkeeper Neil Etheridge and midfield wizard Stephan Schrock had to fulfill commitments abroad.
The Azkals were also without the Younghusband brothers James and Phil, who were dropped from the team due to commitment issues.
Guam beats Macau
Earlier, Guam salvaged third place in the four-nation tournament with a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Macau.
Still, the title triumph was a confidence boost as coach Michael Weiss tried to build a winning mentality as the squad heads to the crucial stretch of its preparations for the AFF Suzuki Cup in Thailand in November.
Future stars emerge
The three goal-scorers actually represent different eras of Philippine football. Caligdong has been with the national side even when the country struggled for support, while Wolf joined the squad at the height of its popularity. Porteria, at 18, has been hailed as one of the future stars of the squad.
Not since the 1913 Far East Games has the Philippines won an international title. But Wolf put the Azkals on their way with a 10th minute strike after he pounced on a mad scramble inside the box caused by a Chieffy Caligdong corner kick.
Caligdong turned goal-scorer in the 34th minute, collecting a clearance from the Chinese-Taipei defender before firing low past the keeper.
The Azkals looked to have wrapped up the win when Porteria stole a lazy pass and finished calmly in the 43rd minute. But they had to absorb pressure from the Taiwanese in the second half.
There was controversy midway when the Taiwanese were denied of a penalty claim after a tackle by Demitrius Omphroy. The non-call did not sit well with Taiwan team officials who refused to leave the bench despite getting dismissed by the referee. That led to a 10-minute stoppage of play, but the Azkals stood resolute and their heroic defensive effort was highlighted by Sacapano’s penalty save in injury time.