This appears in the Friday March 25, 2011 edition of the Business Mirror.
Last chance to advance for the Azkals
by rick olivares
The Azkals are at a crossroads.
The early elation of advancing to the group stage of the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup after outlasting Mongolia has now been replaced by concern. After two consecutive draws—1-1 with Myanmar and a scoreless affair with Palestine—the Azkals have only two points to show so far in the four-country group stage.
Incredibly, Palestine, which last made the quarterfinals in 2006, is on top of the group with four points off a 2-0 win over Bangladesh in its opening match as well as from the draw with the Philippines on Wednesday evening.
Bangladesh is in second place with three points following a stunning 2-nil victory over Myanmar. Spectacular goals by Shakil Ahmed and Abdul Baten Mojumder Komal surprised the host nation and put the standings in disarray with the early favorites—the Philippines at third and Myanmar at the bottom of Group A with one point.
The Philippines and Bangladesh play each other on Friday at the Aung San Centre at 5 p.m.
The Azkals had an opportunity to break the scoring drought when team co-captain Emelio “Chieffy” Caligdong’s blast in the 64th minute was blocked by ’keeper Abdullah Saidawi. Forward Yanti Bersales corralled the rebound but was unable to convert his shot.
Palestinian striker Murad Alyan, who scored both his country’s goals over Bangladesh, nearly had his third successful strike of the tournament when his shot hit the post in the 18th minute.
The Philippines will have its hands full against the Bengal Tigers as the 11 from Bangladesh is known by. The team has a penchant for being giant-killers. Besides skewering Myanmar, the Tigers, who play in a country where football is a far second to cricket, previously beat Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2-0.
The Bangladesh side has also pocketed podium finishes in the South Asian Football Federation in 2003 and the South Asian Games in 2010. And they will be facing a Philippine team without defender Rob Gier who will be flying back to England with his wife on the family way.
Although Azkals Hans Michael Weiss preached prudence and caution entering the group stage because of the unpredictability of their opponents, expectations have been high for the nationals who have been beefed up by some regulars and new finds in Filipino-Spaniard Angel Guirado and Filipino-Dane Jerry Lucena.
For the Philippines to advance to the quarterfinals—which takes place next year—the Azkals have to beat Bangladesh and hope that Palestine does not earn three points from Myanmar. Should Palestine figure in a draw, it will be level with the Philippines on total points. The tiebreaker will be the goal difference.
Good luck, Azkals!!!
Good luck, Azkals!!!