BY PATRICK SALOMON
THE Philippines' 'Azkals' national football team capped their short stay in Bahrain last night with a tough 1-3 defeat to the kingdom's under-23 Olympic squad. A capacity crowd turned up at the Muharraq Club stadium in Arad to watch the much beloved 'Azkals' one last time before they depart for Kuwait to play the first leg of their Fifa World Cup qualifying clash.
And even with 'the Azkals' losing for the second time in three days against the hosts, their time in Bahrain proved to be a success and the friendly matches were "a big experience" for the team, according to 'Azkals' manager Dan Palami.
"It is our first time in this part of the world; we didn't know what to expect, but after a few days here, I'd like to say this was one of the better organised camps that we've had," Palami told the GDN.
Three of yesterday's goals were scored within an eight-minute stretch in the first half, earning Bahrain a 2-1 advantage after 45 minutes. The Bahrainis then sealed the big victory three minutes before full time.
"It was a good, tough last game with the team of Bahrain. It will give the boys something to think about as we head over to face Kuwait," Palami said.
Substitute Ahmed Juma'a opened Bahrain's account in the 36h minute with a brilliant header off a corner kick. Juma'a rose above the Philippine defence and sent the ball home past 'Azkals' goalkeeper Eduard Sacapano, standing in once again for top choice Neil Etheridge, who has missed the trip to Bahrain due to commitments with his British club Fulham.
Hisham Mansoor then doubled the hosts' advantage five minutes on. Left unmarked at the right edge of the box, Mansoor unleashed a cracker that powered into the top-right corner of the net.
The two-goal margin was short-lived, however, as 'the Azkals' were able to get one back just before the interval. Co-captain Emelio Caligdong headed home off a Manuel Ott cross. From the left of the area, Caligdong brilliantly sent the ball over the head of Bahrain goalkeeper Ashraf Al Sebaie and into the right of goal.
Both teams made several changes for the second half, but neither could add to the score until the closing stages of the contest.
Sayed Dhiya Saeed, who came on late for the home side, applied the finishing touch after receiving the ball just outside the 18-yard box, dribbling into the area and rounding a charging Sacapano.
He completed his move with an uncontested tap-in for Bahrain's third, drawing the ire of 'Azkals' head coach Hans Michael Weiss. The German tactician was unavailable to comment following the game.
It was Saeed's second goal against the Filipinos in as many matches. He supplied the Olympic team's second in their opening 2-1 victory on Saturday at the National Stadium in Riffa.
"What we were trying to do again today was try different combinations; we've been missing two or three players who will be playing against Kuwait, so we tried to mix things up a bit again," Palami said of 'the Azkals' game plan.
"We had a couple of good chances, especially in the first half. But big credit to the Bahrain team; they are a really good side. Although, all in all, I think we played well ourselves, and we had chances of our own."
Yesterday's match was a hugely physical encounter, with six yellow cards being shown by the match referee, three apiece for each team.
Bahraini defender Rashed Al Hooti, meanwhile, had to be rushed to the hospital midway through the first half. He was on the receiving end of a harsh tackle early in the game, and had to be stretchered off the pitch.
The match was a fitting ending to the first-ever Bahrain-Philippines Football Friendship Games, which proved to be a huge draw for the Filipino community of Bahrain and even of Saudi Arabia.
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