Azkals flaunt quality under continental spotlight
DUBAI—It was a debut many years in the making and the Philippines surely left its mark, notwithstanding the result.
On a cold Monday night at Al Maktoum Stadium, the Azkals combined their grit and resilience with their tactical genius and work rate for the continent to see in a 1-0 defeat to a giant in South Korea in their Group C opener.
That the Koreans needed a 67th minute strike from Hwang Ui-jo to finally grab maximum points was a mere footnote to what was a memorable introduction for the Azkals, who showed a spring in their step as chants of “Pilipinas” reverberated inside the cavernous, newly refurbished facility throughout the match.
“After a game like this, you will be having one teary eye and one which is OK with the result and the performance,” said midfielder Stephan Schrock, the captain for the night as coach Sven-Goran Eriksson opted to start Javier Patino in favor of Phil Younghusband.
“We are very proud. Korea had a lot of good players, they are composed and much better than the average Asian team. We surprised everyone with the performance tonight. We have something to build on.”
The Azkals will take a two-hour bus ride to Abu Dhabi late Tuesday as they prepare for their duel with China on Friday. Getting a result against the Chinese is paramount for Eriksson’s side if it wants to advance to the last 16.
Few expected the Azkals to stay competitive against a Korean team that regularly plays in the World Cup and only recently stunned former World Cup champion Germany, 2-0.
But the Azkals were hardly fazed by the quality and experience of a Korean side, which had established players in Ki Sung-yueng of Newcastle United and Lee Chung-yong, formerly of Crystal Palace.
The tactical brilliance of the staff led by Eriksson and deputies Scott Cooper and Chris Greatwich allowed the Azkals to cope with the Korean assault for majority of the match.
It took some tweaks and the introduction of Lee early in the second half for Korea to finally break down the Azkals.
Lee, who played four seasons in the Premier League, praised the Azkals’ gallant stand.
“Everyone thought Korea would win this game, but we saw in the first half that it was not easy,” said the midfielder. “It was a tough game for us. I’m happy to get a result, but the Philippines is good. They have a good future in this tournament.”
The three-man defense anchored by Alvaro Silva put bodies on the line just to deny the Koreans opportunities, while Michael Falkesgaard produced three big saves to keep the Azkals in the match.
“I’m happy with the performance; but I’m also sad because we could have gotten something out of it,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami. “But if somebody told us before the game that it was going to be just 1-nil, I would take it any time against a team like South Korea. It gives us encouragement and motivation to do better in our next games.”
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