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Azkals face Myanmar on Friday in 2012 Suzuki Cup

BANGKOK—When the Philippines takes on Myanmar on Friday at the Supachalasai Stadium (Thai national stadium), the Azkals have the opportunity to advance to the semifinals stage with a win over their struggling opponent.

The Philippines is flush with renewed confidence after its 1-0 win over Vietnam, while Myanmar is reeling from a 4-0 beating from Thailand during Tuesday’s matches at the Rajamangala Stadium.

The victory put the Philippines in prime position to move on while Myanmar, despite being at the cellar of Group A, has an outside chance of still advancing and spoiling the Azkals’ dreams of repeating their 2010 feat.

A win by Myanmar coupled with a Vietnam upset over semifinals-bound Thailand could see them through as well—provided they score a bunch of goals to offset their goal differential of minus-five.

Myanmar’s South Korean head coach Park Sung Wa said the task before them is a very difficult one. “We have a mathematical chance of going through but that will take a miracle. The Philippines has a very strong team. Their defense is strong and they have good offensive players. But we will give it our best,” he said.

For the Philippines to avoid the complication of tiebreakers, the three full points from a win is the surest way to go through. However, qualifying against the White Angels, as the Myanmar squad is nicknamed, will not be easy. In the 16-year history of the tournament, the Philippines has yet to defeat Myanmar.

In the 1998 Tiger Cup, the Philippines took a 2-1 lead after two strikes by Freddy Gonzalez. The White Angels responded with four goals to take a 5-2 win in Ho Chi Minh City.

In the 2000 staging of the Asean Football Championships, the two teams were in the same bracket once more. The Philippines took a 3-0 loss in their first game of the tournament.

Staring at another whitewashing in the 2002 tournament, Gonzalez scored a late goal to salvage a little pride and prevent a shutout in a 6-1 loss to Myanmar. That match was again the first match for both teams.

In December 2004 a Filipino-foreigner reinforced Philippine squad was heartbroken when San Day Thien claimed a stoppage time goal for a 1-0 win the first assignment for both squads.

With 500 people in the stands in 2007, the Philippines finally claimed a point off Myanmar with a scoreless draw at the Thai Army Sports Stadium.

The two teams did not face each other in 2008 but in Vietnam for the 2010 Suzuki Cup, the two figured in another scoreless draw. The point claimed by the Philippines saw them through to the semifinals stage.

 “We only take this one game at a time,” said Azkals head coach Michael Weiss. “You cannot take any team in this competition lightly no matter their standing. We will have to fight for our place but we are confident of our abilities.”

“The game will not be handed to us on a silver platter,” said striker Phil Younghusband, who has yet to find the back of the net in the tournament. “Football can be strange. We saw defending champions Malaysia lose to Singapore, 3-nil, the other night. In our own group, Vietnam drew with Myanmar. We have to go out and win this.”

The Azkals will miss the services of midfielder Jerry Lucena, who flew back to Denmark after his club, Esbjerg, recalled him. Lucena started in the Philippines’s first two matches against Thailand and Vietnam.

But Weiss could still count Chieffy Caligdong, James Younghusband, Jason de Jong, Angel Guirado, Patrick Reichelt, Jeffrey Christiaens, Marwin Angeles, Carli de Murga, Demetrius Omphroy and Chris Greatwich to platoon the midfield.

Homegrowns stand tall against Vietnam

HOMEGROWN Azkals Emelio “Chieffy” Caligdong and Eduard Sacapaño stood tall in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Vietnam.

In the 86th minute, Caligdong corralled a chip pass from teammate Angel Guirado and volleyed from 10 yards to beat goalkeeper Duong Hong Son for the game winner.

 “’Nung hindi ako nilagay sa starting eleven,” said Caligdong. “Dinasal ko na mabigyan ako ng isang pagkakataon para makabawi. Nabigla ako ‘nung first game. Wala akong magawang tama. Nung pinasok ako para kay James [Younghusband against Vietnam], sabi ko, ‘eto na and pagkakataon ko.’”

The goal was Caligdong’s 16th in international play.

Sacapaño, on the other hand, related his elation in joining Neil Etheridge in minding the Philippines’s goal in these two massive wins against Vietnam.

“Malaking bagay na makalaro at maging kasama sa panalo dito,” he said.

The late strike by Vietnam’s Le Tan Thai where Sacapaño got a hand up to deflect the shot upward to the crossbar and outwards was a game saver. “Nakita ko ’yung volley niya. Instinct ko itaas ’yung kamay ko. Swerte rin na-block ko. This is a big win para sa bayan.”

Sacapaño, in his second Suzuki Cup campaign, saved eight shots.

In Photo: Chieffy Caligdong could again be the answer to the puzzle called Myanmar. (Courtesy Anton Sheker)







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