Uzbek coach sees bright future for Azkals
TASHKENT – The Philippine Azkals may have left this cold Central Asian capital city without a point to show in the World Cup Qualifying table, but their performance on Thursday night was enough to convince Uzbekistan coach Samvel Babayan that they will soon be a force in the continent.
The 10-man Azkals yielded to the Uzbeks, 0-1, in their Group H WCQ clash before a partisan crowd of 34,000 at Bunyodkor Stadium here.
Neil Etheridge stood out with a stellar performance on goal, but the Azkals collective grit and resilience also came to the fore, preventing the Uzbeks from pouring the goals unlike in the 1-5 defeat in Bulacan last September.
Babaylan who has led the Uzbeks to six straight victories since taking over last July believes the Azkals have a bright future ahead with several youngsters figuring prominently in the match against the highly-rated home side.
“I think the Philippines has a bright future,” Babaylan told reporters after the match. “Their goalkeeper was the hero today but I think they will be stronger in the future.”
Azkals coach Thomas Dooley said it was a shame that the Uzbek crowd only showed a glimpse of what the PH side can do as the ninth minute red card on OJ Porteria put the Filipinos on the backfoot most of the match.
“Today, the team showed heart and that they can fight,” said Dooley. “I’m hoping someday we can also show you that we can play our style of football because we couldn’t do it consistently after the red card.”
Babaylan’s side dominance was underscored by 31 shots on goal with 13 on target. Etheridge came up with at least eight saves on clear chances while defenders put their bodies on the line to prevent the home side from scoring more goals.
“We had a full stadium tonight because the Uzbek fans know we were facing a quality side,” said Babaylan. “Credit the Philippines. We couldn’t score more because of their goalkeeper and the way they defended.”
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