Azkals make history, finish 3rd in Challenge Cup

by Camille B. Naredo,

Posted at Mar 19 2012 05:45 PM | Updated as of Mar 20 2012 04:54 PM

MANILA, Philippines - (2nd UPDATE) The Philippine Azkals made history once again after defeating Palestine, 4-3, in a thrilling game to wind up in third place in the AFC Challenge Cup Monday afternoon in Nepal.

It was the Philippines' best ever finish in the biennial tournament for developing football nations.

"The match was a thriller. Dor or die," Azkals coach Michael Weiss said in an interview with Goal Nepal. "I think we deserved this place." 

"That match was our Final, and we ended with a bang," tweeted Azkals team captain Aly Borromeo, who did not participate in the tournament due to injury. "Great achievement to come home with a bronze... so proud."

Phil Younghusband scored two goals to raise his tournament total to six, while Angel and Juani Guirado both added to the goal-fest for the Azkals.

Younghusband broke the ice in the third minute, taking a beautiful pass from team captain Chieffy Caligdong before weaving his way through three Palestinian defenders and evading the goal keeper to score his 5th goal in the Challenge up.

But after two straight shots on target, Palestine finally broke through in the 21st minute when Abudalhamid Abuhabib struck the equalizer, which sailed past Azkals keeper Eduard Sacapano.

The Azkals were able to restore their lead just four minutes later when Caligdong was brought down inside the penalty box. Younghusband coolly converted the ensuing penalty kick to put the Philippines ahead 2-1.

Just before halftime, Angel Guirado made it 3-1 for the Philippines after he evaded Palestinian goal keeper Ramzi Saleh and slotted the ball through.

Palestine closed the gap in the second half after Abuhabib scored his second goal in the 66th minute, but Juani Guirado restored the Azkals' advantage anew with a superb strike two minutes later.

Guirado received the through ball from James Younghusband and escaped the offside trap to put the Philippines ahead, 4-2. It was Guirado's first international goal.

Palestine was able to cut in into the lead three minutes later, when a defensive lapse by the Azkals allowed Fahed Attal to score nearly unchallenged.

Though Palestine attempted numerous times to equalize in the final minutes, the Azkals defense held.

Historic achievement

"I would like to congratulate my team, they showed fighting spirit," Weiss said. "I am very proud want to take this opportunity to thank Filipino supporters for their kind support."

"I am very proud to be a part of this development of Filipino football," he added.

It was a historic victory for the Azkals, who said prior to the game that they are treating the third-place match as their finals. The Philippines had a golden opportunity to make the Challenge Cup finals for the first time ever, but suffered a heartbreaking loss against Turkmenistan in the semi-finals.

Ahead 1-0, the Azkals surrendered two late goals and eventually succumbed 1-2. They also lost goal keeper Neil Etheridge for the third-place game after the Fil-Brit was booked for a red card.

But Sacapano proved to be an able substitute as he delivered several solid saves, including one in the 82nd minute when he punched away an attempt from a Palestine player that could have tied the match.

The Azkals also booked impressive victories against former champions India (2-0) and Tajikistan (2-1) during the group stage.

P. Younghusband ended up winning the Golden Boot award for the most number of goals scored in the tournament. 

Worst game

Meanwhile, Palestine head coach Jamal Mahmoud was gracious in defeat, congratulating the Philippines after the game.

"I would like to congratulate the Philippine team for winning the match," he said in a Goal Nepal interview. "I don't blame the players. My players lacked concentration on the game. It was their day." 

Mahmoud said it was "the worst game that we ever played in international football."

"We missed our important players who couldn't travel with us here due to Club commitments," he said. "Tactically, we had understood the Philippines' game, but we couldn't play well."

Mahmoud added that the tournament "went well" for Palestine, but he still wished that his side was at full strength.

In the finals, defending champion North Korea retained their title after edging Turkmenistan, 2-1, in a hotly contested game.

The replay of the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup 3rd place match: Philippines vs Palestine will air Tuesday at 3 pm on Balls Channel and on March 22, Thursday at 2:30 pm on Studion 23.