Azkals barely escape
KUALA LUMPUR—A scrambling 3-2 win over Timor Leste last Saturday exposed the Philippines’ vulnerabilities, but captain Phil Younghusband vowed the Azkals will raise their level of their play heading into the toughest stretch of the group stage in the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup.
The Azkals were in no mood to celebrate as they left the KLFA Football Stadium here, barely escaping with maximum points against a Timor side that had previously lost its first two matches here by huge margins.
And with a duel with unbeaten Thailand looming on Wednesday, the Azkals need to sort out their defensive frailties before its too late.
“You can only beat what’s in front of you,” said Younghusband, who scored the opening goal in the 27th minute.
“When we face Thailand, we would have to raise our game. But the most important thing today was to get the win. I’m sure come the Thailand match, we will learn our lessons tonight and I’m sure we’ll have a better performance. We have players who can rise up to that level.”
The Azkals face the War Elephants at Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City on Wednesday. The winner will seal a spot in the semifinals.
The defending champion Thais overwhelmed Indonesia, 4-2, in Bangkok for their second straight win and top spot, ahead of the Azkals on goal difference.
The Azkals thought they had victory in the bag after Martin Steuble and Carlie De Murga added to Younghusband’s earlier strike, but the Timorese exploited the Azkals’ defense to score two quick fire goals through Nat Reis and Joao Pedro in the second half, paving the way for a thrilling finish.
It did not help that Stephan Schrock was only good for 40 minutes of action due to an Achilles heel problem, while Manny Ott did not make the trip due to an injury. Goalkeeper Neil Etheridge was rested due to a quad strain, allowing Michael Falkesgaard to debut in the tournament.
Falkesgaard had to be alert early with a save on the breakaway as the Azkals hardly looked like a team that was determined to win the competition for the first time.
“We need to look back in this game and get some things straightened,” Falkesgaard said. “It was not good enough, the players know it. It doesn’t feel like a victory right now because of the way we played.”
The narrow win capped an emotional day for the team, which mourned the loss of one of its biggest supporters, Vhonne Servinda, who passed away Saturday morning after a long battle with cancer. Servinda was also a contributing photographer of the Inquirer.
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