By Karlo Sacamos
THE Philippine men's football team failed to sustain its gains to surrender a 2-3 decision against pesky Myanmar in extra time and the Peace Cup crown at the Rizal Memorial Stadium on Saturday night. The Azkals fought back from an early deficit on goals by Daisuke Sato and Phil Younghusband, but squandered a late lead in the second half as they allowed the Burmese to force extra time and win it there. As a result, the Burmese denied the Filipino booters a third straight title to become the first country outside the host nation to rule the annual pocket tournament. It was a second straight heartbreak for the Azkals, who were coming off another defeat in a final in the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup against Palestine last May.
“It’s a disappointment,” Azkals skipper Rob Gier said. “To lose in two finals in a space of three months is pretty hard to take, especially here in front of our home fans.” “It’s not nice watching the other team jumping around and celebrate the trophy that you think should be yours,” the Filipino-British center-back added. Myanmar caught the Philippines napping on defense just eight minutes into the match when Kyaw was left unamarked near the box, enabling the Burmese star to score an unbelievable looper that went past goalkeeper Roland Muller. The Burmese kept the lead the rest of the half that saw their coach Raddy Avramovic get ejected near stoppage time for kicking a water bottle over a disagreement on the officiating. It didn't take long for the Azkals to equalize as the 19-year-old Sato pounced on a poor clearance to score from the middle with only four minutes gone by after the restart. Younghusband put the Filipino booters in the driver's seat in the 70th minute with a penalty strike awarded after Patrick Reichelt drew a foul inside the box following a pinpoint diagonal ball from Mark Hartmann.
But the 160th-ranked Burmese, playing way better than their ranking suggests, knotted the count anew late in stoppage time when Min Min Thu headed home a free kick given after Misagh Bahadoran committed a questionable foul, forging another 30 minutes of play. Soe Min Oo gave Myanmar the lead for good 10 minutes into extra time, scoring from close range off a cross that stunned the sizeable partisan crowd. “I think that we didn’t step up to the level we can actually play at,” said Azkals coach Thomas Dooley, whose team is preparing for the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup in November. “But you learn a lot from your defeats,” Gier said. “And we just have to pick ourselves up from this.”