IT took two years for the Philippine men’s football team to return to this point. Unfortunately, the Azkals will have to wait another two years to get another chance.
The country’s quest for football greatness in the region got derailed on Wednesday night as the Azkals bowed to the Singapore Lions, 1-0, in the Lions’ home turf at the Jalan Besar Stadium that eliminated the Filipinos from contention in the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup.
They lost by the same score on aggregate after being held to a scoreless draw in their home match on Saturday night at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
The Lions now advance to the Finals to face the winner of the other semifinal pairing between Malaysia and Thailand. The Singaporeans are gunning for a fourth title that would make them the most successful team in the 16-year history of the tournament.
“Everybody is extremely down,” Azkals coach Michael Weiss said. “We would like to congratulate Singapore and good luck in the finals.”
“But we don't have too much time to mourn because we are now preparing for the AFC Challenge Cup,” the German mentor added, referring to the prestigious tournament that stakes a ticket to the 2015 Asian Cup.
Banking on quick counterattacks, the Lions stunned the Filipinos in the 19th minute when Khairul Amri slotted home a long-range free-kick from about 40 yards that got Azkals goalkeeper Ed Sacapaño so surprised the homegrown Filipino booter stood still and failed to react.
It was the first goal the Azkals’ supposedly resolute defense surrendered in three games in Southeast Asia’s premier football competition.
The Azkals could not control possession in the first half anew as they seemed to veer away from the short-passing game that has worked wonderfully in the group stage, and instead relied too much on long balls.
With an improved passing game in the last five minutes before intermission, the Azkals conjured two scoring chances courtesy of brothers Phil and James Younghusband.
Chieffy Caligdong and Demit Omphroy tried to make an impact in the second half as they came in for Patrick Reichelt and James Younghusband, respectively.
Already with the lead, the Singaporeans switched to a more cautious, more defensive approach in the second half that gave the Azkals more of the possession.
The Filipinos, however, could not take advantage as they failed to create clear-cut chances.