Far from its sharpest form, the Philippines needed a wonder goal from teenager OJ Porteria and the brilliance of returning goalkeeper Neil Etheridge to secure a confidence-building 1-0 win over Myanmar in an international friendly Wednesday night in Yangon.
The match served as part of the Azkals’ preparations for the AFC Challenge Cup and the performance showed there was plenty of work ahead for coach Michael Weiss’ wards, who were playing their first game since their semifinal exit in the AFF Suzuki Cup last December.
Facing a Burmese side that was raring to avenge a 0-2 loss in the Suzuki Cup in December, the Azkals’ defense was stretched constantly with midfielder Manny Ott struggling to cope with playing in an unfamiliar rightback position, while the buildup play lacked the cutting edge.
It took a moment of sheer individual brilliance from Porteria—billed as the next star of the side—in the 78th minute to rescue the Azkals.
“It wasn’t the smoothest of wins,” said the striker, who was paired up with Phil Younghusband up front. “Neil (Etheridge) came up big at times and our defense did well clearing the ball at all costs.”
Substitute Ian Araneta found Porteria isolated on the left and the 18-year-old took on and beat his defender before firing a curling shot using the outside of his right foot.
The curveball caught the Burmese keeper off guard and found the bottom corner. It was the only goal needed by the Azkals, who actually made history with its first away victory against Myanmar.
“It was a great look from Ian. I saw the Myanmar rightback breathing heavily the whole game so I knew he was tired and just decided to go at him and get a shot,” Porteria said. “It’s really a dream come true for me to score a goal like that.”
Etheridge proved to be the Azkals’ savior several times with his incredible foot save from close range denying the Burmese the opener in the 63rd minute.
The Fulham reserve keeper also kept out another stinging strike in the 73rd minute, clearing the way for Porteria to fashion out his heroics.
“I thought we came out pretty sharp in the first 10 minutes and took their counterattacking abilities for granted,” Porteria added. “In our talk at the half, we spoke about not giving the ball away and I think we improved.” Cedelf P. Tupas