28 July 2011

Azkals fall short in gallant attempt to upset Kuwait

The Azkals stunned heavily favored Kuwait with a spectacular first-half goal, but again suffered second-half defensive breakdowns to allow the visitors to squeak by with a 2-1 victory at Rizal Memorial Stadium.

With their win at home, Kuwait advanced to the third round of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers while eliminating the Philippines.

Yousef Sulaiman and Ahmed Jumah scored the goals for Kuwait in the 61st and 85th minute.

But those came after the Philippines gave them a scare by striking first, when midfielder Stephan Schrock slammed home the Azkals' first and only goal in two matches, just before the half, igniting the crowd.

The euphoria extended into halftime as a sold-out stadium began smelling a historic upset against an opponent ranked 67 places higher in the FIFA rankings.

But to move on to the next World Cup qualifying round, the Azkals not only had to win but beat Kuwait by four goals, after losing in the away leg, 3-0.

Up tempo match

With a three-goal deficit, the Azkals played a high defensive line to push forward and pressure the Kuwaitis from the start.

Both teams had numerous chances to score with Kuwait looking to counter-attack the Azkals pressing game in the high tempo match.

Both teams also played the ball quickly and effectively behind some crisp passing. The Philippines also abandoned their old long-ball tactics.

Kuwaiti Fahad Al-Ebrahim was ejected midway in the second half after a dangerous challenge against Chieffy Caligdong, giving the Azkals a golden opportunity to pad their lead.

However, the Azkals' playing so high up the pitch enabled Kuwait to counter with a fast break and score soon after the red card to momentarily silence the pro-Filipino crowd.

Down to 10 men, Kuwait played the ball well to the left, with Jumah finding the back of the net.

Azkals keeper Neil Etheridge was tenacious in goal, but the Kuwaitis' better coordination and even conditioning shone in the two late goals.

Despite the result, the crowd gave the home team a standing ovation after the match as they circled the pitch to chants of "Azkals, Azkals, Azkals," a shirtless and brawny young Etheridge reminding the crowd that this team can only get better. – With reports from Earl Victor Rosero and Roy Moore/JVP/MRT/HS, GMA News

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