‘Brave’ defense helps Azkals make point in Pyongyang
By Cedelf P. Tupas
PYONGYANG—It was one of those games that required a brave, fighting performance and the Philippine Azkals duly delivered.
With their backs against the wall, the Azkals frustrated powerhouse North Korea in a scoreless stalemate Thursday in their World Cup qualifying clash before a boisterous crowd at Kim Il-sung Stadium here.
Amani Aguinaldo kept 6-foot-3 striker Pak Kwang-ryong at bay, Jerry Lucena used his experience to hold the backline together which was under constant bombardment and 19-year-old Luke Woodland coped well with the pace and power of a North Korean side that was seeking to preserve its perfect record in the qualifying tournament.
Neil Etheridge also produced a couple of spectacular saves in the end to ensure the Azkals survived.
In the end, it was the Azkals who felt more like winners after picking up a precious point in what has been a tiring trip to this reclusive country.
It boiled down to a stellar defense and Stephan Schrock, who played up front, was quick to pay tribute to Azkals defenders Aguinaldo, Lucena and Woodland.
“It was a good performance from everyone,” said Schrock. “We put up a great fight and we deserved a point. Amani, Jerry and Luke did an awesome job.” The result boosted the Azkals to second spot in Group H with seven points. North Korea remains on top with 10 points at the midway point of the qualifying tournament.
But it was a hard-earned point for the Azkals considering the quality of the opposition and the conditions—playing before a partisan crowd of 50,000 which cheered every time the visitors’ defense endured a shaky moment.
“Not many teams come to North Korea and take points away from them,” team captain Phil Younghusband said.
Azkals coach Thomas Dooley took a more conservative approach to make sure his team got the draw that puts the Azkals back into the qualifying mix. He said slowing down the pace of the game was key as the Azkals stayed composed on the ball and took their time on dead-ball situations.