Azkals near Challenge Cup semifinal berth after shutout of Laos
by Karlo Sacamos
NO storm ever ended without a rainbow appearing.
The Philippine men’s football team found the ray of triumph on Thursday when it whipped Laos, 2-0, to get its Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup campaign going.
Encountering calm weather conditions on the way to Hithadhoo Stadium this time, the Azkals found the scoring punch that was missing in their scoreless draw against Afghanistan as they shut out the Laotians to move a step closer to a semifinal berth in the tournament for emerging footballing nations in the continent.
Simone Rota and Patrick Reichelt emerged the goalscorers for the Azkals, who gained the provisional hold of the top spot in Group B with four points, while eliminating their victims from contention.
A victory over Turkmenistan in their last game on Saturday would ensure the Filipino booters' entry to the crossover Final Four.
Under pressure in a must-win situation, Azkals failed to find the mark in the first 40 minutes, before Rota, a defender, shone on offense, rebounding a Stephan Schrock miss with a strong strike four minutes before first-half stoppage time.
Reichelt doubled the lead in the 63rd minute when the in-form left-winger headed home a corner by Phil Younghusband, who conjured his own attempts that barely missed their targets.
It was the Philippines’ the breakthrough victory over Laos, which the Filipinos had never beaten in their last eight meetings.