Azkals bring semifinals homeBy Cedelf P. Tupas |Philippine Daily Inquirer
BANGKOK—The past two years had been full of questions whether or not the “Miracle of Hanoi” was just that: A miracle.
With the same dogged determination as in 2010 but with more flair in their play, the Philippines got its validation on Friday night here.
Unflagging and peerless, the Philippines finally overcame Myanmar (Burma), 2-0, at the Suphachalasai Stadium to book its place in the semifinals of the AFF Suzuki Cup for the second straight time.
On a day the country remembered one of its foremost heroes in Andres Bonifacio, the Azkals proved they were heroes in their own right.
Phil Younghusband and Angel Guirado scored in the second half in a well-drilled and disciplined display that considerably boosted the Azkals’ stock in the tournament.
With the victory, the Azkals are bringing the tournament, which lured 192 million televiewers throughout the region two years ago, to Manila with the semifinals to be played home-and-away on Dec. 8 and 12.
The Azkals will be playing the top team in Group B—being contested by Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos and Singapore—at the Rizal Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
Off-target in the first two matches, Younghusband delivered when the Azkals needed him most, showing a fine first touch, poise under pressure, good balance and terrific skill in slotting the ball past a stranded Thiha Si Thu in the 47th minute after a weighted pass from Jason de Jong at midfield.
Guirado, coming in as a first-half substitute, displayed pace and power in finishing off the Burmese, latching onto a long ball from Carli de Murga, before shrugging off his defender for his goal.
Guirado did the salsa as he celebrated his first goal since he struck the game-winner in the 2-1 win over Tajikistan in the AFC Challenge Cup early this year.
By the time the final whistle blew, the long-haired attacker had tears in his eyes while he hugged Paul Mulders.
“I was trying to see the difference from 2010 but I could not see it as it felt as sweet as ever getting back to the semifinals,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami.
“All the 6 a.m. training that the guys had to do, those midnight runs just to get ready for this tournament, it all comes out in the final whistle,” said defender Rob Gier. “You can’t describe the emotion.”
The Azkals had bounced back mightily from the brink of elimination to emerge as the No. 2 side in the tournament’s so-called Group of Death. Thailand topped the group with nine points, after sweeping its group assignments while the Philippines finished second with six points.