Loss stings Philippine Azkals
In the country’s most important match in recent memory, a six-minute spell littered by defensive gaffes late in the second half did the Azkals in as they threw away a one-goal lead, their shot at the title that could have rewarded them of a slot in the AFC Asian Cup in 2015.
There was a palpable feeling of disappointment over dinner at the Everest Hotel near downtown Kathmandu as the Azkals, relegated to a third place battle with Palestine on Monday, nursed their battle scars.
“They always say its worse to lose in the semifinal than a final because at least in the final you get to experience the big day,” said leading scorer Phil Younghusband.
Skipper Chieffy Caligdong broke down in tears at the dugout after the match as the Azkals ended one of the most improbable runs in the tournament.
“Its sad when you’ve worked so hard to get to this point and just fall short,” said Caligdong in Filipino.
Missed opportunities remained a point of discussion over breakfast Saturday and Juani Guirado, the defender, who was infront of Amanov Arslanmyrat when he fired the equalizer in the 80th minute was still shaking his head at the thought.
It was a case of what-ifs. What if Ray Jonsson had doubled the lead before halftime when a corner kick fell kindly into his feet a yard in front of goal only for the Turkmenistan keeper to stop it? What if Lexton Moy’s stinging shot in the 70th minute found the back of the net? What if Jonsson hadn’t chest dropped the ball to Amanov’s path before the equalizer and Guirado managed to get a block? What if Roel Gener had cleared the ball out even before Gahryman Chonkayev dispossessed him?
“You feel pain when you think about it over and over again,” said Guirado. “It’s not like they were so much better than us.”
“Just getting to the semifinals is a big achievement already, but as players and as a team, we wanted to go that step further,” said Younghusband, who gave the Azkals the lead in the 25th minute.
Up until those fateful 10 minutes against Turkmenistan, the Azkals were as solid as any team can be in the tournament.
Rebounding resoundingly after a 0-2 defeat to North Korea, the Azkals blanked former champion India (2-0) and rallied past Central Asian powerhouse Tajikistan (2-1) to gatecrash the last four.
They were playing some of the finest football, relying on stout defending and a swift counter-attack. But that defense had switched off in the final minutes and the attack looked toothless.
“Football can be brutal,” coach Michael Weiss said. “And yesterday was just a tough, tough lesson to learn from.”
Azkals manager Dan Palami said the Azkals can build on the positives from the competition.
“We had to overcome a lot of adversities in and out of the competition,” said Palami. “Maybe its not yet our time.”