THE Philippine men’s football team lived up to lofty expectations as it notched its first international title in almost a century by overwhelming Chinese Taipei, 3-1, in the Philippine Football Peace Cup Saturday night at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
The fancied Azkals didn’t disappoint the large, wildly-cheering crowd – the biggest to show up in the week-long meet - as they scored three goals right in the opening half to win for the country its first championship since the 1913 Far Eastern Games – the precursor of the Asian Games.
“We are happy and we want to build on this success,” said Azkals coach Michael Weiss, whose team used the tournament as part of its preparation for the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup this November.
“We dominated the game as we pressured them high and forced them to make mistakes,” added the German mentor. “But the Suzuki Cup matches will be completely different.”
Denis Wolf, Chieffy Caligdong, and OJ Porteria struck for the Azkals, whose first-half onslaught was more than enough to secure the victory in the tournament where the Philippines owned the superior ranking over the three other participating nations.
After the half-German Wolf opened the scoring for the Filipinos 10 minutes into the game, Caligdong doubled the lead in the 34th minute. The Azkals’ skipper capitalized on a poor clearance by a defender to score his 15th international goal overall for the national team.
Nine minutes later, the 18-year-old Porteria, who made his first start, intercepted a weak cross-court pass from a Taiwanese defender to score easily and give the Azkals a commanding first-half lead which they never relinquished.
Wolf, who registered a hat-trick in the team’s 5-0 hammering of Macau on Thursday, received the Golden Boot trophy for scoring the most number of goals in the meet. He was also adjudged as the tournament MVP.
The Azkals swept the individual awards as Jeff Christiaens was named Best Defender, while Matthew Uy bagged the Best Midfielder trophy.
“I dedicate the two trophies to boss Dan,” Wolf said, referring to Azkals manager Dan Palami, who was not with team following the death of his two aunts recently.
The Filipino booters came close to finishing the meet without conceding a goal before Chang Han took advantage of Azkals’ keeper Ed Sacapaño’s miscue and scored six minutes into the second half.
Sacapaño, though, made up for his mistake big time as he prevented another Taiwanese goal by blocking Yang Chao Hsun’s penalty kick four minutes into injury time. He ended up being named as the Best Goalkeeper of the tournament.
A minor confusion marred the second half of the entertaining match as Taipei football association vice president Liu Fu Tsai refused to leave the bench after he was instructed by one of the referees to go out.
The Taiwanese official apparently was contesting a non-call on an alleged Demit Omphroy tackle, which could have awarded Chinese Taipei a penalty kick. The match was stalled for about 10 minutes before Tsai agreed to leave amidst the cheers and jeers from the highly-partisan crowd.
Taipei coach Tiang Mu Tsai later also expressed his disagreement with the non-call.
“The referee was a little bit unfair. There was some frustration there,” he said through an interpreter.
Meanwhile, Guam registered its first victory in the tournament, a 3-0 blanking of Macau in the first game to finish third with three points. Macau rounded out the four-nation tourney with a lone point.