THE Philippine men’s football team turned to a familiar face in clinching a berth in the Asian Football Federation Challenge Cup main tournament next year.
Phil Younghusband struck the lone goal in the Azkals’ 1-0 win over Turkmenistan on Tuesday night at the Rizal Memorial football pitch which enabled them to top the Group E Qualifiers.
“It was a very hard-fought victory. We went one hundred percent against this very stubborn, very aggressively defending team,” Azkals coach Michael Weiss said afterwards.
“In the end, the one who fights hard and the one who gives everything will be rewarded. And that was the case today,” added the German mentor.
The victory avenged the Azkals’ heartbreaking 2-1 loss to the Turkmen in the semifinals of the 2012 Challenge Cup in Nepal where the Central Asian booters denied the Filipinos a historic finals berth.
Despite the loss, the Turkmen still booked a ticket to the Maldives competition in 2014 by finishing as the best second-placed team among all the five groups.
Hardly challenged in their 8-0 thrashing of Cambodia last Sunday, the Azkals faced stiff competition this time as the Turkmen proved up to the task by thwarting every Filipino attempt while creating their own chances.
Younghusband, who scored half of the Azkals’ goals against Cambodia, was again the recipient of numerous balls from midfield, led by Stephan Schrock. But the striker was unable to convert his attempts, including a close-range shot that just hit the right goal post right in the first possession of the game.
The celebrated Azkals striker was finally rewarded in the 67th minute when he used his quick reflexes to gain possession of a loose ball before slotting it in.
While they were unable to convert their attempts, the Azkals’ defense, led by goalkeeper Roland Muller and defenders Rob Gier, Dennis Cagara, Juani Guirado, and Carli de Murga remained rock-solid.
“We knew it was going to be a totally different game,” said Gier, the stand-in skipper. “Against Cambodia, it was all about the attackers. And I think today the game was all about defenders.”
“It goes to show we need both aspects of a team to be successful. We proved that we’ve got all the ingredients to be a very tough team not only in Southeast Asia but in Asia as well,” Gier added.