By Olmin Leyba
MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Azkals didn’t take long to prove team manager Dan Palami’s pre-tournament pronouncements that they could spring some surprises in Group H of the Fifa World Cup qualifiers.
The Pinoy booters ambushed higher-ranked Bahrain, 2-1, in Thursday’s opening match at the Philippine Sports Stadium, boosting their stock and jacking up their confidence level in the home-and-away competition with the famous result.
“It’s a great start for the team. I was always saying that somehow we’ll pull off surprises in this particular round. I’m happy that we pulled off one tonight,” said Palami, who was reduced to spectator as he served his one-game suspension for a previous offense in the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup finals in Maldives.
“For a while in the opening minutes, I was quite worried their (Bahrain’s) quality was too good for us to handle but the boys really played well, even the subs who came in played well. I think we have a deeper squad and they got us through tonight. Hopefully, it will get us through to the next round,” he added.
The victory sent the Phl to the top of the table in the Group H with three points in the company of North Korea, which scored a 1-0 win over Yemen over at the Qatar Sports Club Stadium in Qatar.
Phl XI will gun for its second straight win on Tuesday against the Yemenis also in Doha.
“We should win again next game and get that six points coming back,” said Palami.
“We’re in good position,” said Phil Younghusband, who wore the captain’s armband. “We’ve beaten the second strongest (team) in our group but Yemen will still be strong so this win (over Bahrain) should give us confidence going into that game.”
Misagh Bahadoran came off the bench for injured Stephan Schrock to open scoring off a pinpoint cross from Younghusband in the 50th minute then the comebacking Javier Patino fired it home off a rebound to provide the cushion.
“It was a team effort. We worked so hard. We had to work together both defensively and offensively. It’s like nobody had a bad day and the performance only went down when they got injured,” said coach Thomas Dooley.
Schrock hurt his knee and his status for the next game is doubtful while veteran Rob Gier, who filled in the starter’s role at the back following the ineligibility of Luke Woodland, had a sore knee and had to be taken out with minutes left before time.
Notes: Misagh Bahadoran can probably call the Philippine Sports Stadium his “turf” as he scored two of the most memorable goals of his career there. Bahadoran netted international goal No. 1 as an Azkal mainstay Thursday night, just two months after contributing to Global FC’s historic 4-1 win over Yadanarbon in the AFC Cup group stage. “I feel this stadium was so blessed for me; now I scored two important goals for the Phl football club and for the Phl national team,” he said….New Azkal Luke Woodland said getting the big triumph somehow diminished the pain from being unable to see action due to eligibility issues. “I was so disappointed but we got the win. It was a good performance and it showed how strong our team is now. Looking forward to the game against Yemen. Hopefully, I get to play,” said Woodland, 19, hoping to finally secure clearance from the Irish, Scottish and Welsh football associations to switch countries in time for Tuesday’s away match.