BOCAUE, Bulacan – There would be no miracle this time for the Philippine Azkals.
The Philippines’ run of semifinal appearances in the AFF Suzuki Cup came to a heartbreaking end Friday night after the Azkals absorbed a 0-1 defeat to a Thailand side that didn’t even field its best team.
Sarawut Masuk left the Azkals’ hopes of a fourth straight Last Four stint in tatters with a composed finish past Roland Muller in the 81st minute for his second goal of the tournament at Philippine Sports Stadium.
And with Indonesia nipping Singapore, 2-1, at Rizal Memorial Stadium, the results meant it was the Indonesians who are joining the unbeaten Thais in the next round with four points.
The Azkals finished Group A with two points for third spot with Singapore also eliminated with a single point from three games.
The race for the last semifinal berth went down the wire last night.
And for the first 84 minutes, Singapore and the Philippines had taken turns in getting a seat in the semifinals.
Stefano Lilipally struck the winner for the Indonesians in the 84th minute at Rizal Memorial, effectively eliminating the Azkals and the Lions.
A draw between Singapore-Indonesia would have been enough for the Azkals to reach the next round had they just lost by a single goal to the Thais.
“I couldn’t say anything more because the players gave it everything they’ve got,” said Azkals coach Thomas Dooley. “It’s disappointing but we have to move on.”
The defeat and consequent first round exit, however, will be tough to swallow.
Expectations were soaring after the Azkals produced a string of impressive results since the previous edition of the tournament when they suffered a semifinal exit in Bangkok.
And with the group stage finally being played at home, excitement was building with Azkals stars openly declaring that a finals appearance is on the cards. Their bark, however, didn’t match their bite.