With backs to the wall, Azkals search for inspiration in unforgotten feat vs Vietnam
HANOI—The Philippines needs its greatest performance yet to finally get a shot at Southeast Asian football’s biggest prize.
With the odds stacked heavily against them, the Azkals not only need to summon their trademark never-say-die spirit but would have to be as clinical and incisive as ever as they try to overturn a 2-1 first leg semifinal defeat against favorites Vietnam on Thursday night before an expected sellout crowd at My Dinh Stadium.
The Azkals are no strangers to pulling off magical feats, but they can’t expect any favors from a Vietnamese side that also carries the weight of expectation from a nation that treats the sport as a religion similar to the Filipinos’ devotion to basketball.
As early as last week, tickets for the match kicking off at 8:30 p.m. (Manila time) were already sold out and scalpers outside My Dinh Stadium last Wednesday were selling them at six times their original price with the best tickets going for 6 million Vietnamese dong or around P13,500.
“We’re looking forward to the game, we know it will be difficult, but we have good memories here in Hanoi and at this stadium,” said Azkals captain Phil Younghusband. “We’re still in the game. We still have a chance.”
The Azkals are left with a daunting task to score at least a 2-0 win to reach the finals, where the winner of the Thailand-Malaysia clash awaits.
It may seem a stretch to note that their win against Vietnam in the “Miracle in Hanoi” on Dec. 5, 2010 also happened to be 2-0, but Younghusband said they need every bit of inspiration to topple the region’s top-ranked team.
“It’s been mentioned a lot in the past few days, but we know it was at a different time and with different players and a different situation,” said Younghusband. “But for us on the team, we always take inspiration from that performance because I think that game typified what we’re all about as a team with that never-say-die spirit.”
The Azkals, however, do have some concerns heading into the match, particularly in defense, which coach Sven-Goran Eriksson felt gave away two easy goals in the first leg. There will be little room for error for Carlie de Murga, Alvaro Silva, Martin Steuble and Adam Reed at the back with Vietnam looking to kill the tie off with an early goal.
Vietnam’s defense was breached for the first time in the tournament, thanks to a flowing move finished off by the in-form Patrick Reichelt.
The Azkals, for the most part, however, found the Vietnamese tough to crack.
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