Fall of the brave young ones
BIÑAN—The Philippines was reminded of how beautiful—and cruel—football can be at the same time in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games.
The Young Azkals delivered their most decisive victory in the competition after a 6-1 thumping of Timor Leste on Wednesday, but they were reduced to tears at the final whistle knowing that their feat was not enough to nail a first semifinal appearance in 28 years.
Amani Aguinaldo came up with one of his greatest performances in a Philippines kit, marshaling the defense for almost 70 minutes, before moving up the pitch to play striker and complete his hat trick with two late goals. But with Cambodia stunning 2017 silver medalist Malaysia, 3-1, at Rizal Memorial Stadium, the Young Azkals were pipped by the Cambodians for the second semifinal spot in Group A on goal difference.
“It was very tough to go out with a win,” captain Stephan Schrock said. “The boys are down, up to now, it was very difficult for us to understand what happened, but that’s football.”There was no shortage of drama in the second half as the Philippines tried to make up for the goal difference against Timor Leste after Cambodia took a 3-0 lead after 68 minutes in Manila. The Filipinos looked on course to reach the semifinals when it took a 2-0 lead at the break on goals from Schrock and Aguinaldo. At this time, Cambodia and Malaysia were locked in a goalless stalemate.
Mar Diano headed home the Young Azkals’ third goal in the 54th minute off a Schrock free kick. But it took 24 more minutes to score their fourth through Dylan de Bruycker.
Aguinaldo grabbed his second of the night in the 86th minute and it looked like the Young Azkals still had a slight opening when Quentin Cheng scored for Malaysia to trim the gap 1-3.The Azkals needed two more goals and got one through Aguinaldo’s 90th-minute strike. But disaster struck minutes later as the home side conceded in stoppage time as Nataniel Reis’ free kick slipped through the hands of goalkeeper Anthony Pinthus, sucking the life out of a packed stadium and also snuffing out the Azkals’ semifinal hopes. “Honestly, I thought we deserved to advance,” said Philippines coach Goran Milojevic. “But that’s the sport, we can get unlucky. We had everything arranged to score more and more goals; Aguinaldo is already playing like a striker after some tactical changes and that was excellent.
Players deserve that one goal, not to concede one goal. But football is like that.”