CEBU CITY - The search for the Philippines’ top-choice goalkeeper for the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup may have ended on Thursday night.
Eduard Sacapaño sparkled on the same day Neil Etheridge’s unavailability for the Suzuki Cup was known as the Philippine men’s football team blanked Singapore, 1-0, on Thursday night at the Cebu City Sports Complex to sweep its home-and-away friendly series against the Lions.
Substitute Marwin Angeles struck the lone goal for the Azkals, but it was the superb defense of the much-maligned Sacapaño that proved crucial to the victory, which followed the Filipino booters’ 2-0 win over the Singaporeans last September.
Sacapaño proved his worth when he saved a penalty kick awarded to Singapore after a questionable foul was called against the Azkals late in the first half.
The Army goalkeeper then added three more spectacular saves in the second half to the delight of the huge Cebu crowd.
Angeles provided the game’s only score upon coming on along with star siblings, Phil and James Younghusband, at the start of the second half. The trio's entry changed the tempo and the pace of the match which shifted in the Azkals’ favor and it didn’t take long for it to materialize into a goal.
It came after a cross by Phil Younghusband went wide and was deflected by Lions goalie Jumaat Hyrulnizam straight to the waiting foot of Angeles who forcefully tapped the ball to the goal, drawing a roar from the partisan crowd.
But as brilliant as the goal was, it was Sacapano’s defense that really shone through especially late in the first half when he frustrated Singapore’s best chance at drawing first blood against the Azkals.
Late in injury time, Singapore forward Amri Khairul fished a contentious foul from Azkals defender Jeffrey Christiaens inside the penalty box, leading to a penalty kick by the Lions.
Picked to shoot was midfielder, Shi Jiayi, as the tension rose up a notch inside the stadium. Sacapano, though, guessed right and stopped Jiayi’s shot as the ball hit him square in the chest, enabling the Azkals to go to halftime with a scoreless draw.
Sacapano also came up big in the second half as a powerful straight shot attempted by Lions midfielder, Hariis Harun, was deflected up and above the crossbar. Later, he added two more saves to his name off a free kick wherein he tapped the shot attempt of the Lions to the right and recovered his position in time to distract the Lions into shooting the ball wide.
The Azkals tried to pad their lead several times but none more promising than the headers that were attempted by forward Denis Wolf.