Reichelt, Azkals create another magical moment at Panaad Stadium
BACOLOD CITY—The scenario looked all too familiar. A Philippine team struggling to break down a stubborn Singapore side that seemed content soaking up the pressure playing on enemy ground.
But this was Panaad Stadium. And magical things do happen here. A quick throw in, a perfectly weighed flick, a deft touch, a fortuitous bounce, a defender slipping and Patrick Reichelt was free in front of Hassan Sunny on the Singapore goal.
Without hesitation, the Azkals winger slotted the ball under Sunny’s hands and into the back of the net as the stadium that has hosted some memorable matches the past few years got another moment to remember, this time in Southeast Asia’s biggest tournament.
Reichelt’s 77th minute strike proved to be the difference in the Azkals’ narrow 1-0 victory over the Singaporeans in their Group B encounter.
“It’s a very special goal,” said Reichelt. “Everybody was just fighting and fighting and all of a sudden it lands on my feet and somehow the defender loses his balance and I get a shot. It could have been anybody, but it’s special because it was me [who got the goal]. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Reichelt has battled through injuries the past two years and even missed the 2016 Suzuki Cup as he was recovering from an injury. Last July, he suffered a concussion in the AFC Cup zonal finals in Singapore that sidelined him from the Copa Paulino Alcantara.
“After all these injuries and not playing for the Azkals and now back with the team, it’s just unbelievable,” said Reichelt.
The win felt sweet for the Azkals as they finally toppled an opponent that has dealt them so many heartbreaks in the tournament, the toughest of which came six years ago at Jalan Besar Stadium where the Singaporeans eliminated the Philippines in the semifinals.
The match had taken greater significance as captain Phil Younghusband was also marking his 100th appearance for the national team and the Azkals were determined to make it a memorable one for their leader.
There were terrific performances from all over the pitch. Newcomer Patrick Strauss provided stability on both ends in a holding midfield role, while Paul Mulders, Carlie de Murga and Martin Steuble marshaled the defense with authority.
Daisuke Sato showed his quality with a last-ditch clearance on a Singapore set piece late after replacing the injured Luke Woodland. Stephan Schrock caused problems on the left in the second half and James Younghusband posed a threat in the box after coming in as a halftime sub.
“I thought we played very well,” said Azkals goalkeeper Neil Etheridge. “Defensively we were very strong with this clean sheet. Singapore came with a plan to sit back. They were hard to break down in all fairness to them. But all in all we deserved three points.”
Etheridge, however, believes the Azkals have barely scratched the surface in terms of their performance. The game was only the first for new Azkals coach Sven-Goran Eriksson and it was evident that consultant Scott Cooper and assistant Chris Greatwich were helping him get acquainted with the Azkals.
“Like I said, it’s a good thing we got three points in the bag, but we know we’re not the finished article yet,” said Etheridge. “We play Timor [Leste] on Saturday. The important thing is we got three points on the board and put pressure on the rest of the teams. We’re very happy, but we know the job is far from done.”