The Philippine national men’s football team promised to come out stronger on offense against India, and they delivered in a big way as they notched their first win in the 2012 Challenge Cup with a 2-0 victory in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Top striker Phil Younghusband found the net twice as the Azkals stayed firmly in the race to advance from their group to the crossover semifinals of the qualifying tournament for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup.
The Azkals came out with guns blazing, with Younghusband scoring on a set piece as early as the 10th minute of the game. Phil fielded a long throw-in by Jason Sabio that was flicked over by his brother James, before making a difficult turn and sending the ball past Indian goalkeeper Karanjit Singh.
They kept the pressure up throughout the rest of the first half, nearly scoring on another shot by Younghusband from a forward pass by Chieffy Caligdong, who sported the captain’s armband for the Philippines. The Azkals had seven shots entering halftime, three on goal, compared to just five and two for India.
Up by a goal, the Azkals opened the second half in a more defensive-oriented formation. But they kept working offensively, especially after substitute Misagh Bahadoran spelled Caligdong in the 56th minute of the game.
In the 72nd minute, Bahadoran would find an attacking Younghusband yet again. Phil sent the ball over to James and got it right back on a beautiful one-touch pass from his brother that set up his second goal of the game.
The two goals were Younghusband’s 19th and 20th goals for the Philippines in FIFA internationals. Philippines keeper Neil Etheridge came home with another clean sheet, stopping eight of 12 shots by India.
Next up for the Azkals is a virtual knockout match against Tajikistan on Tuesday, March 13. A win will see the Philippines safely through to the last four while a loss would eliminate them from play.
Tajikistan defeated India, 2-0, in their first game and lost to North Korea, 0-2, in their second. The Azkals posted identical results in their two games.
A third goal against India would have meant the Philippines could advance to the next round with just a draw against Tajikistan, but a high-looping shot by Bahadoran in the 85th minute could not find the goal in one of the Azkals’ final chances to score in the game.