ABU DHABI—The Philippines left this city tired and disappointed after a heavy 3-0 defeat to China last Friday night that left its hopes of reaching the next round of the AFC Asian Cup hanging by a thread.
Getting a grim reality check on the level of competition they are facing, the Azkals were punished by a sharp and incisive Chinese side, which capitalized on some poor defending from the Philippines to secure their second straight win and progress to the Round of 16.
On a high after their impressive performance in the 0-1 loss to South Korea, the Azkals’ pride was pricked by China’s workmanlike and classy display that was highlighted by two sublime goals by Wu Lei.
The Azkals still have an outside chance of reaching the next round after South Korea nipped Kyrgyzstan, 1-0, last Friday night, but they would need to beat the Kyrgyz side first and hope that other results go their way.
The final group match is slated on Wednesday at Rashid Stadium in Dubai.
“We still have hope,” said captain Stephan Schrock. “As you know, South Korea beat Kyrgyzstan last night and so we can still have a little final for the third place for maybe a place in the next round.”
A few tactical tweaks by coach Sven-Goran Eriksson did not go as planned as the Chinese overran the Azkals midfield. Manny Ott was relegated to the bench with Carlie de Murga getting a first start.
Schrock took an advanced role on the left wing, while Luke Woodland played at rightback.
The Azkals, however, seemed to run out of ideas when they had the ball and struggled to settle into the match, unlike in the Korea encounter where they looked comfortable soaking up the pressure, before breaking forward in numbers.
Javier Patino, just like against Korea, again couldn’t find a way through the Chinese goal, after he was released by Patrick Strauss on the counterattack.
“We were all very disappointed with the outcome but just to defend in a game like this is not enough,” said Schrock. “We barely created our opportunities from our side. We had one golden opportunity with Javier on the counter and that was it.”
A marked man as mentioned by Eriksson before the match, Wu proved to be a cut above the rest as his well-placed effort in the 40th minute opened the scoring for the Chinese.
In front of 16,000 fans, most of them Filipino workers spending their day off at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, another moment of magic from the Chinese striker in the 66th minute doubled the advantage, before substitute Yu Dabao cashed in on some indecision from Azkals defenders off a corner.
“We knew that one of the two things we needed to before the match was that we cannot give him space, but he still finished twice unmarked. We have to do a better job in this situation,” said Schrock.
Defender Daisuke Sato said the Azkals have to be physically stronger at this level after the Chinese refused to pull up on some heavy challenges during the course of the match. Sato had a swollen lip after getting hit in the first half.
“You cannot switch off in these types of games, in this level we are playing now,” said Schrock.
The midfielder warned his team from looking past Kyrgyzstan, a newcomer in the tournament, which the Azkals have beaten twice two years ago.
“We cannot overlook anyone in this group especially now that Kyrgyzstan has a chance to advance to the next round. Like I said, it’s a final. We have more time together and work something out for this game and we will take the challenge.”