Azkals coach Michael Weiss hugs Chieffy Caligdong, who scored the first goal in the 19th minute of the first half of the Azkals vs. Sri Lanka Brave Reds second leg match, Round 1, of the 2014 World Cup Asia playoffs held in Rizal Stadium in Manila. (Mike Alquinto/NPPA Images)
The Philippine Azkals made history today when they pounded the Sri Lanka Brave Reds, 4-0, in the second leg of their Round 1 World Cup qualifier at the packed Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
With the convincing victory, fashioned out before a crowd of 12,000 that didn't move an inch even when half of them were drenched by a heavy downpour that struck the pitch early in the first half, the Azkals clinched the tie on an aggregate of 5-1 and made history on several counts.
First off, it was the Philippines' first-ever victory in World Cup qualifying matches. It's also the first time the country scored more than one goal in a WC qualifying match. Finally and most importantly, it's the first time the Philippines will advance to the second round of the WC qualifiers.
Chieffy Caligdong of the Philippine Air Force broke the ice in the 19th minute by eluding two defenders in the box before striking home a shot that just clipped the inside of the goal post. Phil Younghusband made it 2-nil two minutes before halftime when he beat the Sri Lankan defense and found himself unmarked in the box for an easy goal.
There was some confusion after Younghusband's goal after the linesman initially signalled a foul on the Fil-British striker, thus nullifying the goal. But after consulting with the linesman, the lead referee overruled the nullification and let the goal stand to give the Azkals a comfortable lead heading into the halftime break.
The Azkals in full force. (Mike Alquinto/NPPA Images)
There was no let-up in the second half as Angel Guirado just beat the offside trap and fielded a perfect pass from James Younghusband to rush unmarked towards the goal. With only the keeper to beat, Guirado deftly maneuvered away from the keeper to the right and found the back of the net to make it 3-0 in the 51st minute. Five minutes later, midfielder Stephan Shrock was taken down in the penalty box by Sri Lanka's Chathura Gunaratne to give the Philippines a penalty kick. Phil Younghusband stepped up to take the shot and sent the goalkeeper the wrong way to make it 4-nil.
Sri Lanka had its chances in the first half but just couldn't get a clear shot. The Brave Reds' best chance came in the 33rd minute when they were rewarded a free kick just outside the left side of the penalty box. A chance was created when the Philippine defense failed to clear and Neil Etheridge was caught out of position, but a header sailed harmlessly above the crossbar.
Glad to be home and to be playing on a better pitch, the Azkals employed more short passing and created several chances by going behind the defense and beating the offside trap. This was a big turnaround from their 1-1 draw in Colombo, where the poorly maintained pitch, which coach Michael Weiss described as "used for planting tomatoes and potatoes", forced his side to resort to long passes.
"I almost called them irregular conditions," Weiss said of the Sir Lankan pitch. "Stony and with bumps and is very difficult to play. We had to change our tactics and play long ball."
Coming home after being away for several weeks training in Germany, Weiss added, was a welcome relief for the players, and provided them with an added boost.
"Today was a totally different environment. We were away from home for a long time, and it was physically and mentally different. The players had a different comfort level."
In contrast, the Brave Reds attacked almost exclusively on the right flank, and were met with good defending by left back Paul Mulders and center defenders Aly Borromeo and Rob Gier.
"The Philippines was the better team today," said Sri Lankan coach Jang Jung.
James Younghusband (#7) of the Philippine Football Team Azkals goes after the ball against a Sri Lanka Brave Reds player. (Mike Alquinto/NPPA Images)
Next up for the Azkals is a training camp in Bahrain in preparation for their second-round two-leg tie against Kuwait, a country ranked 103 in the world and considered a very tough opponent for the national side. The first leg will be played in Kuwait on July 23 and the second in Manila on July 28. The Azkals might miss Borromeo and Shrock in the first leg after both players picked up their second yellow cards of the qualifiers. Weiss, though, is hopeful his team captain and top midfielder can play, noting that FIFA is more lenient about such infractions during World Cup qualifiers.
The coach, though, minced no words about the level of competition they will face, and cautioned the public against expecting a similar attacking style that they unleashed on Sri Lanka.
"We will have to enhance our level of play, especially considering who we will be up against. I don't think we will be able to compare both opponents (Sri Lanka and Kuwait) because it's like you play Crystal Palace and Manchester United. It's totally different football. We will not be able to be as offensive-minded as we were today against Kuwait. Otherwise we will get hammered like we have never seen before.
"So we have to change our tactics, but nevertheless, if we stand compact we will have a chance. The first match will be played under incredible hot weather and we have to play smart and not waste our energy against an opponent who moves the ball very fast and technically superior.
"We have to analyze them carefully. I have all their tapes and I am looking forward to the challenge."