26TH SEA GAMES: Erratic PH Azkals bow to Vietnam
JAKARTA—Under enormous second-half pressure, the Philippine Azkals crumbled and fell, 1-3, to Vietnam Wednesday night in a disappointing start to the country’s campaign at the 26th Southeast Asian Games here.
After forging ahead with a late first-half goal from Manny Ott, the Azkals spent the better part of the second half defending and would have been dealt a ghastlier rout had it not been for the brilliant work of goalkeeper Roland Muller.
One of the three enemy goals was an accidental header from Matthew Hartmann that knotted the count at 1-1 early, and the Filipinos never recovered from that shock before a lean crowd at the vast Bung Karno Stadium here.
“It was a well-deserved victory for them (Vietnamese),” Philippine coach Michael Weiss admitted later. “We were a little bit unlucky (because of the own goal) despite a brilliant, brilliant job by our keeper.”
For a while, it looked like the Azkals, despite being together for less than three weeks, were ready to pull the rug from under the favored Vietnamese after Mark Andrew Hartmann flicked in a reverse pass which Ott converted just inside the penalty box for the first goal of these Games.
But the Azkals allowed the Vietnamese to pressure them after halftime with their offense lacking fire while they seemed content on preventing the equalizer on the other end.
But the seasoned Vietnamese, represented here by its Under-19 squad, were relentless and could not be denied.
Proud of the team
“I am very proud of my team despite the loss,” the massive German continued. “We still have four games to go and we have the best team (in our group) already behind us.”
In the second half, it looked very much like a Vietnam-versus-Muller match with the 23-year-old half-Filipino saving at least nine goals.
Muller just failed to stop the tying goal that Hartmann, who was trying to deflect an attempt from striker Nguyen Trong Hoang, headed instead into the Philippine goal.
The second goal came with Muller sprawled on the ground after deflecting a point-blank attempt, leaving substitute Le Huang Thien with an open follow-up shot.
“If not for our keeper, it would have been a debacle,” Weiss said.
Vietnam scored an insurance goal less than a minute left in injury time when Nguyen Van Quyet eluded two defenders before flicking in a a left-footed shot way beyond the reach of Muller.
The Philippines will not return to the pitch until Monday when the Azkals clash with lightweight Timor Leste.
As things stand now, the Filipinos need to sweep their remaining assignments to reach the Final Four where, should the Vietnamese not lose, they will clash with the top team from Group A.
The Philippines is in what the coaching staff calls the “Group of Hope,” with only Vietnam as the real powerhouse. Others in its bracket are Myanmar, Brunei and Laos.
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