Azkals almost pull off Malaysia upset

by Dennis Gasgonia, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Feb 29 2012 11:00 PM | Updated as of Mar 01 2012 08:03 PM

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Azkals nearly pulled off an upset victory over reigning Suzuki Cup champion Malaysia during their international friendly at the Rizal Memorial Stadium Wednesday night.

The Azkals, who looked confident after their 10-day training camp in Dubai, scored a goal against their Malaysian opponents before conceding one late in the game.

Filipino-Spanish Juan Luis Guirado battles Malaysia's Mohd Safee Mohd Sali for the ball during the international friendly between the Philippines and Malaysia. Photo by Rem Zamora for ABS-CBNnews.com 

The Filipinos played aggressively in the first half, attacking the goal with consistency while forcing the Malaysians into defensive mode.

In the 34th minute, Filipino-German striker Denis Wolf pulled the Azkals ahead, 1-0, with a diving header off Jason Sabio’s long throw.

The Filipinos had 9 shots on the goal by the end of the first half, which forced the Tigers to regroup.

The Azkals appeared headed to the victory when Malaysia’s Ahmad Shakir Mohd Ali scored the equalizer a minute into injury time.

The friendly game is part of the Azkals’ preparation for the coming 2012 Challenge Cup in Nepal this March.

“Overall I think we all can be pleased against a very solid and strong team with a good style of football play... we were a bit unlucky in the end but overall I think we fared well,” said Azkals coach Hans Michael Weiss.

Weiss noted the efforts of Wolf, Sabio, midfielder Lexton Moy and Fil-British keeper Neil Etheridge.

“Neil is solid as we know, Lexton Moy very good, Jason Sabio very solid... but the whole team played with big fighting spirit. Denis Wolf, just 2 days in the country, almost playing 90 minutes and scoring the goal. Could've been the hero,” said the Azkals coach.

Even Malaysian coach Datuk Rajagobal commended the Filipinos for giving them a spirited fight.

He said the Azkals played a physical game and that his players were forced to adapt.

“Both of the teams played well, both played with hunger and determination. I also give credit to the Philippines, I think it was a satisfying match,” said Rajagobal.

Team manager Dan Palami said the fact that they drew with one of the best teams in Southeast Asia says a lot about the Azkals.

“I commend the boys,” said Palami. “It's Malaysia, they're Suzuki Cup champions. They’ve been playing against teams that were really high quality.”

The Azkals will be having just a day’s rest before flying to Nepal for the Challenge Cup.

Philippine Football Federation president Nonong Araneta said the team will be leaving for Kathmandu on March 2 to acclimatize in time for their Challenge Cup campaign.

Kathmandu has an elevation of about 1,400 meters (4,600 feet) above sea level.

Weiss said the Filipinos should get used to the high altitude before facing defending champion North Korea on March 9.

This will be followed with games against India (March 11) and Tajikistan (March 13).

The games will be aired live on Studio 23.

"We've always wanted to go toe the semis [of the Challenge Cup],” said Palami. “This is the first time the Philippines have actually entered the final stage and we are actually the lowest ranked team among the teams that qualified.”

“We want, just like what we did in the Suzuki Cup to reach the semifinals at least. If we can make it, that would be a dream come true."