Azkals yield to theatrical Thais in rugged AFF duel
BANGKOK—Juani Guirado showed up for breakfast Sunday wearing a band-aid on his busted lip. Phil Younghusband also had plasters over a couple of cuts at the top of his left eye.
The two players hardly looked like footballers, but boxers fresh out of a prizefight, their valiant effort just falling short Saturday.
Thailand won the war on the pitch, left the Philippines bruised and bloodied and put its hopes of advancing to the semifinals of the AFF Suzuki Cup in peril with a narrow 2-1 victory at Rajamangala Stadium.
The crowd on a rainy Saturday night was not as intimidating as the Azkals had expected with just about 20 percent of the 80,000-seat stadium filled.
On the pitch, though, the cohesive but theatrical Thais were ruthless with their fluid play, quick movement and passing game. They scored two quickfire goals late in the first half to gain enough cushion when the Filipinos tried to mount a fightback.
Paul Mulders pulled a goal back in the 77th minute but it wasn’t enough as Thailand kept possession in the final minutes and preserved the win that put the hosts on top of Group A.
Vietnam and Myanmar fought to a 1-1 draw in the opening match to notch a point each.
With the loss, the Filipinos have no choice but to win their next game against the Vietnamese, whom they defeated, 2-0, in Hanoi two years ago in the country’s most famous result to date in the 16 years of the tournament.
“We coped well in the first 20 minutes, but we could not sustain it and we lost that game in those five minutes late in the first half,” said Azkals coach Michael Weiss. “We lost our rhythm as Phil was going in and out of the game getting treatment.”
The Azkals, who missed Denis Wolf to an ankle injury and Demit Omphroy to illness, were playing one man short for about 10 minutes in the first 20 as Younghusband was treated twice for his injury—first after a clash of heads and second from a flailing arm of a Thai defender.
The Thais were called for only three yellow cards slapped on Teerasil Dangda, Adul Lahsoh and Anucha Kitpongsri. Dangda elbowed Guirado in the 65th that left the Fil-Spanish defender with a busted lip.
Overall, though, the Philippines struggled in its buildup play and offered little attacking threat except for Younghusband racing clear nine minutes into the match only for Chonlatit Jantakam to make a crucial tackle.
It didn’t take long for Thailand to settle into the match and find the goal that lifted the spirits of the home crowd.
Jakkapan Pornsai opened the scoring from close range in the 39th minute after some good linkup play by Dangda and Theerathon Bunmathan on the right flank. The Azkals went 0-2 down two minutes later as Kitpongsri finished off a fine team move from the backline, faking Ray Jonsson and rounding out Azkals keeper Ed Sacapaño.
The Azkals got a foothold on the game in the second half with Weiss bringing in Marwin Angeles and Patrick Reichelt, who continued his good run of form, to replace Phil and James Younghusband.
It was Reichelt who beat his defender on the right and issued the cutback for Mulders to finish with his left foot.
Weiss was later ejected from the touchline by Japanese referee Ryuji Sato after he appeared to have thrown the ball at the fallen Kitpongsri as play was stopped in the 80th minute.
“Obviously it was a disappointing result,” said defender Rob Gier. “We knew it was going to be difficult for the first game playing the hosts and I thought we did really well in the first 20 minutes. But we struggled with our buildup play and played too many long balls.”
“It’s a tough result,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami. “But this team has been used to adversity and we’re still confident that we can still make it (to the semifinals).”