Back on track
Things are starting to fall into place for the Philippine Azkals with more than a week to go before the biggest tournament of the year.
With doubts creeping on their capability to capture a first AFF Suzuki Cup title, the Azkals returned to their winning ways with a 1-0 victory over Kyrgyzstan, ranked 25 places ahead at 99th, Wednesday night.
The visitors kept the home crowd at Rizal Memorial Stadium quiet for most of the night, bossing possession until Misagh Bahadoran came off the bench to strike the winner in the 65th minute.
“This victory helps us and we have to keep the players reminded that this win will be for nothing if we don’t play great in the Suzuki Cup,” said Azkals coach Thomas Dooley. “The team chemistry, spirit of the team is almost 80 percent better than it was before.”
A pass intended to Iain Ramsay actually bounced off the foot of the backpedalling Kyrgyzstan defender and landed nicely for Bahadoran to fire home.
An emotional Bahadoran dedicated the goal to his late father, Mostafa, who passed away due to an illness last month.
A couple of 3-1 defeats to Bahrain and North Korea last month exposed the Azkals’ frailties, particularly on the defensive end.
Dooley shored up the defense by deploying the returning Daisuke Sato at central defense together with Amani Aguinaldo. Dooley also noted the “commitment” shown by the players this time after the two lethargic performances last month.
In one of his better games in recent years, Stephan Schrock sparked the attack with a couple of robust runs into the box in the second half.
“We didn’t do much in the first half but in the second half, there was great commitment from the players,” said Dooley.
The improved performance augurs well for the squad, which begins its Suzuki Cup campaign against Singapore on Nov. 19 at Philippine Sports Stadium in Bulacan.
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