EMELIO 'Chieffy' Caligdong surely took his demotion well.
Relegated to the bench for the first time in a long while, the diminutive Philippine men’s football team skipper stood tallest on the field as he scored the goal that propelled the Azkals to a 1-0 win over Vietnam on Tuesday night in the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup at the Rajamangala Stadium.
Bouncing back from a lackluster performance against Thailand, the 30-year-old Caligdong received a perfect lob pass from fellow substitute Angel Guirado and converted on a left-footed strike from inside the box as the Azkals registered their first victory in Southeast Asia’s premier competition.
"Ginagawa ko ang lahat para makatulong sa team. Kaya ngayon may tsansa tayo na maka-semis," said the veteran Azkal, moments after the thrilling victory.
The victory was also the Azkals' second straight against the Vietnamese since the Filipino booters scored a historic 2-0 upset in 2010 that fanned the flames of the sport’s renaissance in the country.
Now with three points in two games, the Azkals have a chance to gain second place in Group A if Thailand beats Myanmar in their game that is being played at posting time.
“We are back in the race,” said a satisfied Azkals coach Michael Weiss, who watched the game from the bleachers as he was suspended for his antics against Thailand three days ago. “We are now playing a strong Myanmar side and hopefully succeed to the semifinals.”
“Honestly, I would have been okay even with a draw,” the German mentor added. “It would’ve still opened us possibilities, but of course, we are in a comparatively comfortable position."
Showing better cohesion compared in the Thailand game, the Azkals conjured up numerous scoring chances in the first half, mostly from Phil Younghusband and Paul Mulders, although they never found the back of the net.
The Azkals’ backline, composed of Dennis Cagara, Juani Guirado, Rob Gier – who wore the captain’s armband in lieu of Caligdong – and Ray Jonsson, as well as homegrown Filipino ‘keeper Eduard Sacapaño, also showed grace under pressure in thwarting the Vietnamese’s chances from long balls.
“Angel Guirado, Caligdong, and Denis Wolf, they changed the match but all that wouldn’t have been possible without the defensive line,” Weiss said.
While Caligdong and Guirado delivered off the bench, Patrick Reichelt and Jason de Jong likewise didn’t disappoint the Azkals’ coaching staff, momentarily handled by Edwin Cabalida, in choosing them as the starters as they proved instrumental in their own ways.
“We fought like lions and warriors,” Weiss said. “We had to play an excessive defensive style with counterattacks and just got in to full swing after the changes we made.”