Monday, March 19, 2012

Azkals survive second-half Palestine assault to take third in Challenge Cup

source: InterAKTV

The Philippine national men’s football team started strong yet again but this time, they did enough in the second half to avoid a collapse as they booked a 4-3 victory over Palestine to end their stint in the AFC Challenge Cup in Kathmandu, Nepal on a high note.

Tournament leading scorer Phil Younghusband struck twice in the first half, while brothers Angel and Juani Guirado both scored one apiece as the Azkals finished the Challenge Cup in a respectable third place in their debut stint in the tournament.

Younghusband opened scoring early when he avoided three defenders to chip in a 3rd minute goal past Palestine goalkeeper Ramzi Saleh. The Azkals looked to add another in the 15th minute when midfielder Paul Mulders surprised a Palestinian defender by dispossessing him in the penalty area and taking a shot on goal but Saleh made a brilliant save to keep the Philippines at bay.

Palestine would equalize five minutes later when Abdelhamid Abuhabib netted his first international goal for his country to tie the count at 1-1.

The Philippines kept the pressure on, though, as Chieffy Caligdong went down near the goal and earned a penalty for the Philippines at the 23rd minute. Younghusband easily found the back of the net to put the Azkals back on top and Angel Guirado added to Palestine’s woes when he forced Saleh out of the net and knocked in another goal as the Philippines entered halftime with a big 3-1 lead.

Palestine came out aggressive in the second half, and finally broke through in the 66th minute when Abuhabib scored his second international goal to cap his career match. But Juani Guirado answered with his own first goal in international play as the Azkals went up 4-2 and looked primed to take home third place.

Things were far from over, though. Fahed Attal, Palestine’s all-time leading scorer, found himself unmarked on the left side and fired a shot past Azkals goalkeeper Eduard Sacapaño, filling in for suspended first-choice keeper Neil Etheridge, in the 77th minute to cut their deficit back down to just a solitary goal.

Palestine stayed on the attack when Abuhabib tried for a hat trick with a looping shot on goal not five minutes later. But Sacapaño was able to put a hand on it to keep the Azkals in the lead.

Palestine attempted a last-ditch effort in injury time, pulling Saleh away from their net and into the offensive attack. But it proved fruitless as the Azkals were able to clear the ball and hang onto the win.

Though the Azkals suffered a disappointing setback in the semifinals, they earned some measure of redemption by finishing third, behind just North Korea and Turkmenistan, who will play for the title.

With the two goals, Azkals striker Younghusband also put himself in strong position to claim the Golden Boot as he went three goals clear of North Korea’s Pak Nam Chol in the race to be the tournament’s top scorer. Younghusband ended his campaign with six goals.