Azkals rout Indonesians; gain Suzuki Cup semis

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It was astonishing, barely believable.

Playing against the team that dealt the country so many heartbreaks in this competition in the past, the Philippines proved ruthless in a 4-0 annihilation of Indonesia Tuesday night in the AFF Suzuki Cup at My Dinh Stadium here.

Phil Younghusband, Manny Ott, Martin Steuble and Rob Gier all found the back of the net on another magical night for the Azkals, who became the first team to reach the tournament’s semifinals.

It was the country’s first victory over Indonesia in 80 years since the Philippines beat Indonesia, then known as the Dutch East Indies, 3-2, in the Far East Games in Manila in 1934.

The Azkals go for a sweep of Group A against Vietnam on Friday at 8 p.m. (Philippine time).

As the Azkals gathered in a circle in front of their bench to celebrate after the final whistle, the Indonesians walked off to the tunnel forlornly, their semifinal hopes now hanging by a thread.

Four years ago, it was the Azkals who were left in despair after a pair of defeats in their first Cup semifinal appearance at Jakarta’s Bung Karno Stadium.

The Philippines suffered its worst loss from Indonesia, 13-1, in 2002. Now, the Philippines has dealt the Indonesians their worst defeat of the tournament.

“This was an outstanding performance from every player for 90 minutes,” said Azkals coach Thomas Dooley. “Every player fought for each other. It was just the way we wanted our game to be.”

“We had to be at our best to beat Indonesia,” said manager Dan Palami.

The Azkals left the Indonesians chasing shadows for long periods and enhanced their credentials by systematically breaking down the enemy’s defense with their passing and movement.

Gier poked home a short corner from Manny Ott in the 76th minute for the Azkals’ fourth goal. The Indonesians were already down to 10 men after Rizki Rizaldi had fouled Younghusband as he bore down on goal.

The superior Azkals dominated the early exchanges but it was the perseverance of Misagh Bahadoran that led to the first goal. Bahadoran pounced on a weak back pass, forcing Indonesia skipper Firman Utina to a foul that led to Younghusband’s 16th-minute penalty.

The Azkals doubled the lead through Ott’s rocket from outside the box.

Some quick thinking from Younghusband led to Steuble’s 68th minute goal. After the Azkals were awarded an indirect free kick inside the area, Younghusband quickly fed the ball to Steuble who fired into an empty net as the Indonesians tried to complain to the referee.

Chalk the 4-nil destruction of Indonesia Tuesday night here as one of the finest moments of the Philippine Azkals, who advanced to the AFF Suzuki Cup semifinals for the third straight tournament.

While the “Miracle of Hanoi” in 2010 ranks high in terms of impact and significance, the victory at My Dinh Stadium that ended an 80-year winless spell over Indonesia put focus on a quality performance by a Philippine team that hardly looked intimidating in the lead-up to the tournament.

This was something that manager Dan Palami had envisioned when he took over the team in 2010: a side playing attractive football with fluid passing and clever movement and hustling when it lost possession.

“That was the best game that I’ve seen the Azkals play ever since I took over management in 2010,” said Palami.

“Sometimes, it makes me ask the question whether we were really that good or they (Indonesians) were just bad. But you saw how we played the ball and the possession we had and our 81 percent accuracy in passing.”

Indonesia coach Alfred Reidl said the Azkals’ fitness proved to be the difference against his team. “What you saw was a fit team against an unfit team,” the Austrian coach said.

Meanwhile, the Azkals are torn between the two stadiums that are being eyed to host the home leg of the semifinals of the prestigious tournament.

The 12,000-seater RMS in Manila has been the home of the Azkals since it was refurbished in 2011. Early this year, an all-weather pitch was also installed in the stadium operated by the Philippine Sports Commission.

Located in Bocuae, Bulacan, the Philippine Sports Stadium can accommodate up to 25,000 spectators and has a natural grass, which some of the Filipino players prefer playing in because they are less prone to injury compared to the artificial pitch.

“It all depends of course,” said Palami. “I think playing in the new Philippine Stadium would be a great experience especially if the fans would go there, although it would not be as accessible as Rizal Memorial. But buses could be made available for fans just in case.”

Palami said World Sport Group, the marketing arm of the Suzuki Cup, has already inspected the Philippine Sports Stadium.

“It’s been awhile since 20,000 fans gathered together cheering for the team,” Palami said.

Source : Cedelf Tupas, Inquirer.net

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