Philippine Azkals open with HK draw despite Chieffy’s heroics
KAOHSIUNG — Chieffy Caligdong struck twice but the Philippine Azkals couldn’t finish off what could have been a comeback for the ages and settled for a 3-3 stalemate against defending champion Hong Kong Friday night in a highly-physical Long Teng Cup opening-match at the National Stadium here.
Caligdong, the proud son of Barotac Nuevo who plays for the Philippine Air Force, delivered two clinical goals, after Phil Younghusband opened the scoring from the penalty spot as the Azkals, who trailed 0-2 after just 22 minutes, flirted with another fightback only to be stalled by poor defending on the set piece near the end.
In a draw that brought back memories against Myanmar and Sri Lanka early this year, the Azkals yielded a late goal on a free kick from just outside the area.
“We should have been rewarded with a if only for Caligdong’s performance,” said Azkals coach Michael Weiss, who paid tribute to the influential winger who limped off after sustaining a knee injury in the 78th minute.
“He’s an outstanding player and I’m glad he’s back into his old shape,” Weiss said of Caligdong, who jacked up his international goal count to 10.
“The comeback was brave and fantastic but we were unlucky,” added Weiss, who also took to task the referees for what he claimed were three “wrong” offside calls in the second half on Phil Younghusband and Ian Araneta.
“It’s the first time we’re playing with a squad like this but you have to admire the players for putting their heart into the game by coming back from two goals down,” said team manager Dan Palami.
The draw gave the Azkals and Hong Kong a point each. Chinese-Taipei and Macau are playing as of presstime.
Missing Europe-based standouts like Stephan Schrock, Neil Etheridge and Paul Mulders, the Azkals’ defensive frailties were exposed early and often as Hong Kong zoomed to a 2-nil advantage thanks to a second-minute strike from Lee Wai Lim and a header from Cheng Lai Hin 22nd minute.
“We were a little naive defensively and we were punished,” said Weiss.
Younghusband sparked the comeback with a penalty conversion in the 31st minute, after he was pulled down by Wai Chiu Ng, who was later given a red card for a foul on Caligdong in the 65th minute.
Left to beat one defender after a fine pass from Younghusband, Caligdong made it all square with a clinical left-footed finish from the left in the 44th minute after a frenetic exchange of scoring chances
A livewire act on the left flank, Caligdong made it 3-2 by beating two defenders before firing past Hung Fai Yapp in the 62nd minute, sending about 500 Filipino supporters, led by the traveling fan group Kaholeros, in the stadium in delirium.
Just when the Azkals were about to celebrate one of their biggest comebacks, Hong Kong struck through Cheng Lai Hin, who was the quickest to react on the rebound after Chan Siu Ki’s free kick was saved into the post by the debuting Roland Muller.
Muller, who plays for Duisburg in the German second division, was the busier of the two goalkeepers, needing to be alert to stop Kwok Pin Pong late in the match, even as substitute Mark Hartmann drew an injury-time save from Yapp from point-blank range.
The match saw three players get sent off including Filipino midfielder Jason de Jong, who got his marching orders in injury time for dissent. Kwok followed him to the showers moments later for a clumsy challenge on Angel Aldeguer that drew a straight red card.
Though he feels the Azkals deserved more than a draw, Weiss said he’d rather dwell on the positives, particularly on the fact that they held a stronger Hong Kong team than the one the Filipinos lost to last year, 2-4.
“We were including new players in the lineup and we were able to get a result,” said Weiss.
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