Philippine Azkals level-up win over Vietnam, Myanmar returns to semis

James Younghusband, Dennis Cagara, and Ed Sacapano in Monday's training. Image Copyright Bob Guerrero

ANGEL Guirado jumped and screamed his heart out, moments after banging in the second goal against Myanmar.

It was a celebration mirrored Philippine football fans who watched the national team beat Myanmar for the first time, 2-0, and make its second straight semifinal appearance in the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup in Thailand.

The Philippines finished the group stage with six points with wins over Vietnam and Myanmar after an opening day loss to host Thailand, which topped the group with a clinical 3-1 win over Vietnam to finish with nine points.

And unlike in 2010, when the Philippines shocked the region with a surprise semifinal entry, the Azkals will finally have that home game on Dec. 8 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium against the winner of Group B. Defending champion Malaysia was set to face Indonesia at press time, while Singapore was to take on Laos. Indonesia leads the group with four points, while Singapore and Malaysia are tied at three.

Laos is last with one point. However all four teams have a chance to make the semifinal spot.

Against a familiar team it has faced in the final group stage match in its last three Suzuki Cup appearances, the Philippines had a nervy first half but an in-form Phil Younghusband showed the Azkals were intent in grabbing the morale-boosting win instead of settling for a draw.

After getting an early free kick, Younghusband curled the ball past the wall but it was saved by the keeper. Then a few minutes later, the Loyola Meralco Sparks striker let loose a grounder but again it was picked up before letting loose with a powerful shot from almost the same spot mid-way through the first half.

Younghusband struggled in the first two games and admitted the goal was a huge confidence-booster.

"As a striker, you get confidence from goals. It's good to get it going," Younghusband told InterAKTV.

However, the Philippines felt the absence of Jerry Lucena, who was recalled by Danish club Ejsberg, in midifeld where Myanmar had most of the control. Coach Michael Weiss, back in the sideline after serving his suspension in the Vietnam game, made a surprising early substitution, putting in the 6'3" Angel Guirado for Denis Wolf after just 34 minutes.

Great move

But the move worked as Guirado imposed his control on the midfield and also connected with Younghusband to threaten the Myanmar defense.

And a minute into the break, Younghusband, the Philippines' leading scorer, added to his tally as he used his superb control to latch to a nifty pass by Jason de Jong to beat his defender, then dribbling past another defender before getting the back of the net with his left foot.

Myanmar, which needed a win to make the semifinal stage, began to press forward and managed to threaten Ed Sacapano, getting a few free headers inside the box. But Sacapano was up to the task for his second straight clean sheet--and third in four starts--while the back four of Rob Gier, Dennis Cagara, Juani Guirado and Carlie de Murga, playing for the injured Ray Jonsson, snuffed out most of the attacks.

The Azkals had two great chances mid-way in the second half, with Guirado and Younghusband leading a breakaway. Guirado found Phil and rushed to an open spot but with two defenders on him, Younghusband failed to make the pass and only got a corner.

In the 66th, Guirado had his chance, but his glancing header off a Cagara free kick hit the bar. Deep into injury time, the Filipino-Spaniard finally got his much-deserved goal, breaking down the defense on a solo effort before letting loose a left-footed strike just as the defense and keeper were closing in on him.

With Younghusband hitting top form, Weiss is hopeful about going into the semifinals.

"Phil had a difficult first two matches and we were talking ahead of the match. I thought I have to give him support and he brilliantly paid it back. Super match.I think we will see the real Phil Younghusband," Weiss told InterAKTV.

The first of the two-leg semifinals will be held at the Rizal Memorial Stadium on Dec. 8, while the second leg will be on Dec. 12.

The Philippines also made the semifinals in 2010 but didn't get to have a home match after then Philippine Football Federation president Mari Martinez conceded the hosting of the home game and said no stadium in the Philippines could have hosted it. (http://is.gd/rDmN4y)

Sun Star Cebu

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