Azkals bow to mighty Kuwait, yake 3-0 rout from Al-Azraq
But for a few fleeting moments Saturday night, the Azkals looked the dangerous, potent side they have been hyped about.
In the end, though, experience and pedigree prevailed over potential as Al-Azraq blasted the hard-luck Azkals, 3-0, in the first leg of their second-round World Cup Qualifying duel at the Mohammed Al-Hammad Stadium here.
In an away game that looked more like the home match because Filipino OFWs outnumbered the home fans in the stadium, the Azkals proved unlucky not to score twice early.
Then the Al-Azraq broke through and systematically tore apart the Filipinos’ defense with two more goals in the second half.
Phil Younghusband drew two classy saves from the Kuwaiti keeper and hit the crossbar once, while Angel Guirado was also denied by the crossbar in the first half.
Coach Michael Weiss said capitalizing on the chances that came when the game wasn’t lost could have completely altered the result.
“We had a great fight here in Kuwait,” Weiss said. “The first half was one of our best performances. If we scored there, we never know how the match would have turned. Kuwait is a strong team and they classically played us out in the second half. I just wish we wouldn’t have conceded a third goal.”
A mountain to climb
The second leg is slated July 28 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila with the Azkals, who had to endure the 40-degree temperature here, facing a mountain to climb. They need to win by four goals or more to make the third round for the first time.
A 3-0 win for the Azkals will only send the game into extra time.
“It’s quite disappointing because I knew we could have held them to 2-0. Now with a 3-0 result it has become a tougher task in Manila,” said Azkals manager Dan Palami.
“But knowing that we have played against a team that has just beaten Saudi Arabia and Iraq and has just been crowned Gulf champion should be something to be proud of as an emerging football country.”
Yousef Naser opened the scoring, before goals from Mesad Nasa and Fahed El-Ibrahim sealed the victory for the Kuwaitis, who are now well-positioned to reach the third round.
A quick counterattack in the 16th minute saw Phil Younghusband breaking free but his right-footed shot was foiled by a rushing Nawaf Al Khaldi, who saved it with his foot.
“It was a good save,” said Younghusband. “But I have to take chances like that better because it could have changed the game.”
Al-Khaldi’s foot save set up the corner kick that nearly gave Guirado the opener, but the Fil-Spanish striker headed Chieffy Caligdong’s corner into the crossbar and Jason Sabio’s header on the follow up was cleared off the line by Hussain Fadhel.
The Azkals’ missed scoring chances woke up the Kuwaitis, who within seconds, finally scored courtesy of Naser.
Fahad Al-Enezi, the creative winger, crossed for Yousef, who banged the header into the bottom corner past the flailing arms of Neil Etheridge.
The Azkals, who missed the suspended duo of Aly Borromeo and Stephan Schrock, came close to equalizing in the 30th minute when Younghusband rifled a shot from just outside the area, forcing a save from Al-Khaldi, who got the slightest of touches that allowed the ball to ricochet off the crossbar.
With match tickets sold out, many among the estimated 14,000 Filipino fans had to camp themselves in the venue’s walkways.
The Azkals’ dogged defense anchored by Anton del Rosario, Rob Gier, Jason Sabio and Ray Jonsson limited the Al-Azraq to several half-chances up until halftime.
“We played better in the second half,” said Kuwait’s Serbian coach Goran Tufegdzic, who called the Philippines a “strong team.”
“We were lucky not to have conceded [a goal] in the first half.”
Kuwait’s sustained pressure paid off in the 66th minute when Mesad Nada poked the ball home during a scramble in the box.
The Al-Azraq’s pattern of dominance continued and with five minutes remaining, midfielder Fahed El-Ibrahim fired a shot from 20 yards that beat Etheridge.
“The Philippines is a dangerous team, they made us think,” said the 6-foot-1 El-Ibrahim.
“The Philippines has many quality players,” the long-haired Al-Enezi said. “They just need more time playing together.”
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