MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Azkals struggled against the Mongolian Blue Wolves in the second leg of their Challenge Cup qualifier on Tuesday due to the sub-zero temperature in Ulan Bator, analysts said.
The Azkals lost the game to Mongolia, 1-2, at the Mongolian Football Federation (MFF) Football Centre but were still able to win the tie, 3-2, on goal aggregate.
Football analysts said during Studio 23’s coverage that the Mongolian temperature, which was as low as minus 12 degrees Celsius, took its toll on Filipino booters.
Miriam Benitez, a 3-time MVP in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) women’s football, said the Azkals became sluggish because of the weather.
"The Azkals were moving but not as fast as the way we saw them in Bacolod,” she said.
Despite scoring the first point against Mongolia, the Azkals gave up 2 goals in the first half.
The Philippines took an early lead via a James Younghusband goal in the third minute of their match.
Mongolia, however, equalized in the 21st minute through skipper, Lumbengarav Donorov.
The hosts stormed ahead in the 34th minute after Garidmagnai Bayasgalan scored on the rebound off a penalty.
Paolo Buendia, hailed as one of the best defenders in UAAP men's football, said the Azkals had to work harder to get into the groove.
“I think it took them a while to get into the game, to warm up. In the second half, we saw them marking better, a lot tighter. They were clearing the ball out, possessing the ball a little more,” he said.
The Azkals better defended the goal in the second half, successfully warding off the Mongolian offense.
Rudy del Rosario of the Kaya Football Club said the Azkals were able to settle into their game in the second half.
He said Azkals’s effort was good enough to secure a slot in the Challenge Cup group stage.
“We actually finally settled in the second half, we were attacking more, we had more chances in goals. Some decisions they made weren't the best decision but still, we got the results we wanted,” said Del Rosario.
The Azkals advanced to the next level because of a 3-2 aggregate score. They were enjoying a 2-0 lead going into Tuesday’s game.
Before the game, the Azkals said the Mongolian weather would be their biggest threat when they play in Ulan Bator.
"Iyon lang 'yung concern namin, 'yung klima," said co-captain Chieffy Caligdong had said.
Some of the Azkals members apologized to their fans for the loss.
"Just want to apologize 2 the fans for the bad result today. the team is really disappointed by the loss. thank you for you support though," Tweeted Simon Greatwich.
"Guys, really sorry about the loss. Glad we qualified though. Worried I will miss the games in Myanmar. :(," Phil Younghusband said through his Twitter account.
Team coach Hans Michael Weiss said the Azkals' performance was understandable, given the conditions in Mongolia.
“It is just normal, the players also were not happy with the performance but I told them that we have to be realistic and these conditions are not like in some tropical areas,” said Weiss.