MANILA, Philippines - Destination: Kuwait.
Playing more like the souped-up team they are billed to be, the Philippine Azkals blanked Sri Lanka, 4-nil, at the Rizal Memorial Stadium to win their first-round showdown in the 2014 Fifa World Cup Asian qualifiers via a 5-1 aggregate, making history by reaching the second round of the regional preliminaries for the prestigious event.
“Kuwait next, Kuwait next,” Azkals captain Aly Borromeo told the adoring fans who congratulated him as he made his way to the media room for the post-match press conference.
He was referring to the Middle Eastern nation, which is seeded into the second round of the Asian qualifiers. Kuwait (102nd in the Fifa ranking) will host the Azkals (159th) on July 23 with the return match set five days later at the Rizal Memorial football field.
“We made history and I think this is a start. It’s still a long way to go but I think we can do it,” said Borromeo.
In addition to qualifying for the second phase, the Azkals also pulled off that elusive first win for Philippine football in a World Cup qualifier.
And this they did in devastating fashion.
Like the heavy downpour that marked the start of the return game before 13,000 supporters at the historic Rizal Memorial Stadium, the Azkals went on a relentless attack from the get-go, making a whopping 26 attempts at the goal and consummating on four of them.
“Today, we finally opened the knot and showed the power and potential that the team has,” said Phl coach Michael Weiss. “We created many chances and deservedly took the lead. We have quality players and I am very happy they showed what they can do.”
Chieffy Caligdong scooted away from the defense to fire in the icebreaker in the 19th minute, triggering a stadium-wide celebration as Azkals goalie Neil Etheridge raced all the way to the Phl side of the field and slid into pile-up of teammates celebrating with the local star.
Fil-British Phil Younghusband, bucking a hamstring injury, did his thing on the pitch with two goals before getting relieved in the 65th due to severe cramps. Younghusband struck in the 43rd and 14 minutes later scored on a penalty kick as the Pinoys whooped it up in frenzied celebration.
The popular striker, however, was brought to the hospital to have his cramps checked immediately after the match.
Fil-Spanish Angel Guirado eluded the defense of Manjula Fernando with a strike from the right flank in between Younghusband’s two goals in the 51st minute.
“The early goal gave us confidence and allowed us to set the tempo,” said Borromeo.
“Great Win! 4-0 Thank you for my family, mum and dad coming all the way to watch me and R.I.P Grandad, that game was for you!” Etheridge posted on Twitter after the match.
But the Azkals may have to deal with the possible suspension of Borromeo and Fil-German Stephan Schrock in the first leg against the fancied Kuwait after getting slapped a second yellow card yesterday. Normally if a player gets two separate yellow cards in a tournament, they have to sit down the team’s next match.
But Weiss said they’re hopeful it won’t be applied in the Kuwait outing.
Sri Lanka’s Korean coach Jang Jung said Phl was “a much much better team” yesterday. “And they showed they have more experience than us.”
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