Powerhouse Kuwait barely slips past improving AzkalsBy Cedelf P. Tupas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines showed marked improvement even in a 1-2 defeat to powerhouse Kuwait Tuesday night as the Azkals produced a worthy performance in a frenetic match played in humid conditions at the Kuwait Sports Club.
A penalty in the 69th minute given to veteran midfielder Hamad Al-Enezi in controversial fashion turned out to be the difference in the games featuring two sides preparing for crucial tournaments in the next few months.
Kuwait’s leading international scorer Bader Al Mutawa fired the opener in the 38th minute, before Phil Younghusband leveled from the penalty spot just before the hour mark.
“We had a narrow loss which could have been easily a draw, so I think that shows that we’re going the right direction. I am satisfied, no problem,” Azkals coach Michael Weiss told reporters in Kuwait.
“I feel we are on the right track of our preparations and this trip in the Middle East gave us a deeper insight on the areas where we need to work on,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami.
Though Kuwait came out on top just like last year in their two World Cup Qualifying matches, the Azkals displayed their ability to cope with the attacking strength of a quality side like the Al-Azraq and showed they are also capable of breaking down strong teams.
Looking like a quicker and better team than the one the Philippines faced last year, Kuwait attacked with plenty of pace and numbers, but the Azkals achieved some success in dealing with them particularly in the first half, thanks to goalkeeper Neil Etheridge.
The Azkals came out of the halftime break playing with renewed vigor and kept the Kuwaitis under pressure with Dennis Cagara’s speculative long-range effort causing handball inside the box that led to the penalty which Younghusband converted.
And just when it looked like the Azkals were about to get another famous result after that scoreless draw against Bahrain, the referee called a foul on Juani Guirado inside the box even though it appeared he got contact with the ball first before the Kuwaiti player emphatically lost his balance.
Clearly benefiting for playing regular football with Bristol Rovers, Etheridge looked sharp on goal, foiling three clear-cut chances early on. The Filipino-British keeper flashed the best piece of goalkeeping of his international career when he pulled off a double-save on Al Mutawa’s penalty and his follow-up to keep the Azkals in the match.
The match—the Azkals’ biggest test as they prepare for the AFF Suzuki Cup next month—saw the national side flaunting one of their most talented lineups yet with Carli de Murga, Angel Guirado, Demitrius Omphroy and Younghusband coming off the bench.
“Every player played a part and it shows how much depth we have in the squad,” said Etheridge. “I think everyone can see the improvement from last year and the way we try to play football.”