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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Azkals blow won game, take draw


The Philippine Azkals let a won match slip away yesterday, allowing Myanmar a goal in the 90th minute of their AFC Challenge Cup showdown at the Youth Training Center here.

James Younghusband scored on a penalty kick in the 76th minute, and brought joy to the entire team and the tiny, flag-waving Filipino contingent up in the stands.

But it wasn’t to last long.

All seemed lost for Myanmar, which has never lost a match against the Filipinos, until midfielder Khin Maung Lwin was fouled, a soft challenge, by Azkal Simon Greatwich.

The free kick was awarded just on top of the penalty box. Then the unexpected happened as Lwin’s kick found an opening underneath the wall and straight into the goal.

Azkals goalie Neil Etheridge couldn’t believe his eyes as he looked back at the ball. The rest of the Azkals froze under the Myanmar sun.

As Myanmar scored the equalizer, the scoreboard said, “90:00. Myanmar 1. Philippines 1.

The stadium almost exploded after Myanmar scored the equalizer.

After one brief possession for the Azkals, the referee blew the final whistle.

Etheridge looked furious inside the pitch as he joined his teammates. It looked like they were trying to console one another in the face of a bitter, painful draw.

There are two matches left for the Azkals, one against Palestine tomorrow, also at 3:30 p.m. (5 p.m. in Manila) and against Bangladesh on Friday.

A victory over Myanmar could have made life easier for the Azkals who need two wins or six points in three matches to assure itself of a ticket to next year’s finals.

A draw is worth a point. The Azkals will take it just because it’s better than a loss.

It was the correct result for both teams. I think both teams could live with the result,” said Azkals coach Michael Weiss during the post-match press conference.

The Myanmar coach, Milan Zibadinovich of Serbia, couldn’t hide his disappointment that Myanmar ended up with the draw.

It was the same result between the Philippines and Myanmar during the Suzuki Cup last December when Milan, a well-traveled coach, was not yet around with the team.

I am not happy with the result,” he told the media.

People are not satisfied, nobody is satisfied. People want a good result,” said Milan who vowed to institute major changes in his lineup if the others don’t play the way they should.

I will call on the young players from our Olympic (qualifying) team if needed. First half should have been 3-0 for Myanmar. But the question is what happened in the second half?” he said.

The Azkals were all over their hosts in the second half, with near goals coming within minutes of each other, in the 66th (Younghusband), 67th (Yanti Barsales) and 69th (Barsales).

New recruit Angel Guirado of Spain out on a show in the second half, challenging and evading his Myanmar defenders with ease, that even the local crowd seemed to enjoy it.

In 2004, the Philippines lost to Myanmar, 1-0, in the Tigers Cup in Thailand, and in 2007 they battled to a scoreless draw.

After the scoreless first half, it was pretty evident who the busier team was, especially in offense.

Myanmar easily had six chances to score in the opening half, the first couple of them coming off corner kicks from the right side.

It was in the eighth minute when Myanmar nearly broke the ice, and inside two minutes came two more chances, one with Etheridge losing control of the handle.

In the 9:19 mark, Etheridge faced a very dangerous 2-on-1 situation, and crowd cheered in anticipation of a goal. But Myanmar’s Pai Soe’s kick was just a little to the right.

In the 11th minute another Myanmar attempt went just a foot over the crossbar, and in the 17th a Myanmar header from inside the six-yard box fell into Etheridge’s hands.

Midfielder Myo Min Tun and forward Yan Paing made it difficult for the Azkals with their near conversions.

The Azkals never got into scoring position in the first half. They tried hard in offense, but it was either the Myanmar defense was tight or they just couldn’t get it going.

Guirado made a swift move against his defender in the 31st minute, and had the crowd of about 5,000 recognizing his effort.

Myanmar had gone for the goal early, and almost succeeded. Close to two dozen photographers, early in the first half, had positioned themselves near the Philippine goal.


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