BANGKOK—A Filipino football hero returned to the fore Tuesday night. And his resurfacing couldn’t have come at a better time.
With the Azkals staring at early elimination from the AFF Suzuki Cup, Chieffy Caligdong provided the flash of inspiration in a massive 1-0 victory over Vietnam at Rajamangala Stadium here Tuesday night.
Relegated to a sub after a so-so performance in the 1-2 loss to Thailand, Caligdong struck the game-winner five minutes from time as the Azkals stayed in the hunt for a place in the semifinals.
“I just wanted to give my 100 percent for the team when I was sent in,” Caligdong said in Filipino during a phone interview with TV5’s AKTV Center, which covered the game in Manila.
The rematch against Vietnamese side brought back memories of that cold December night in Hanoi two years ago when the Azkals finally made their presence felt in this tournament with a 2-0 victory over the then defending champions.
History repeated itself here. And while the margin of victory was smaller, the performance was nothing short of heroic.
Displaying a much improved passing game and a more organized defense, the Azkals—with coach Michael Weiss reduced to a spectator in the stands because of a suspension—constantly put the Vietnamese backline under constant pressure with their reward coming in the form of Caligdong’s half-volley that beat Vietnamese keeper Duong Hong Son.
“I’m proud of my team,” said Weiss, whose team moved up to second in the group just behind Thailand, which was scheduled to play Myanmar late last night. “They (Azkals) fought like lions and warriors like they had to do.”
It was a terrific piece of counter-attacking play that led to the goal with Jerry Lucena starting the quick buildup from midfield until the ball found its way to Angel Guirado, whose pinpoint pass to Caligdong gave the Air Force winger time and space to deliver a composed finish.
But the Azkals needed to ride their luck in the final minutes with the solid Ed Sacapano just rescued by the crossbar, which denied an unmarked Le Tan Tai inside the box.
“We can’t celebrate yet, we still have a game to play,” Caligdong told TV5.
More than surpassing their feat in this tournament two years ago, the Azkals are fueled by the desire to give the country what it was deprived of in 2010—a home game in the semifinal stage of this meet.
The Azkals reached the last four two years ago but failed to get the home field advantage they so desperately needed as the country did not have a suitable venue for the match against Indonesia, which eventually prevailed on aggregate scores.
The Philippines next faces Myanmar on Friday, needing a victory to ensure a hassle-free entry to the semifinals.
If the Azkals book their ticket, the Philippines can finally get to host a leg of the semifinals after the Asean Football Federation, through secretary general Dato Sri Paul Mony Samuel, announced that the Rizal Memorial Stadium is good for a home game, subject to “remedial work on the field of play.”