BOCAUE, Bulacan – It was a loss that was hardly surprising, yet was still unexpected.
The Philippine men’s football succumbed to the quality of powerhouse Uzbekistan, 5-1, for its first defeat in the Fifa World Cup qualifiers on Tuesday night at the rain-soaked Philippine Sports Stadium.
Igor Sergeev and Sardor Rashidov proved to be the sharpest thorns in the side of the Azkals as they scored a brace each, but it was Odil Akhmedov's early goal that set the tone for the rout for the 76th-ranked Uzbeks, the highest-ranked team the Azkals have ever faced.
The Filipino booters thus suffered their first defeat in the campaign — and their most lopsided under coach Thomas Dooley — as they dropped to third in the five-nation Group H, switching places with their tormentors.
Akhmedov found the back of the net 48 seconds into match when the Uzbek skipper’s shot from outside the box slipped past Neil Etheridge’s hands and between the goalkeeper’s legs, silencing the crowd.
“From the first kick, we started on the wrong direction,” Azkals coach Thomas Dooley said. “After the first minute, everything we tried to do was gone.”
While admitting the opening goal gave them a psychological edge, Uzbekistan coach Babayan Samvel believed they domainted the entire match.
“That first goal gave us some encouragement and affected our game, but I think we controlled the game during the whole match,” he said through an interpreter.
After the rainy conditions favored them, the Uzbeks showed their quality as Rashidov doubled the lead after beating Stephan Palla to the ball to score in the 14th minute.
Sergeev sneaked in a goal two minutes before halftime with an impressive left-footed strike, before completing his two-goal effort in the 65th.
Stephan Schrock gave the partisan audience of over 7,000 something to cheer about as the Filipino-German midfield dynamo was on target in the 67th with a sublime long-range free-kick conversion.
The Filipino booters’ best chance in the first half came from Javier Patiño, who caught a cross from Martin Steuble only for his header to go a bit wide left.
The Azkals next face North Korea on October 8 and Bahrain five days later with both matches to be played in the opponent’s turf.