Azkals make history for booking trip to AFC Challenge Cup semis-A A +A
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
MANILA -- Filipino booters bucked a wobbly first half to defeat former titlists Tajikistan, 2-1, as they marched into the semifinals of the 2012 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup in Nepal.
Trailing by one goal, lead striker Phil Younghusband pulled off the equalizer in the 53rd minute when he fired the ball into the empty net off a pass from Angel Guirado.
Guirado then made the much-needed cushion in the 79th minute after he scored the header to ice the match as the Philippines qualified in the Final Four for the first time since the tournament’s establishment in 2006.
Cheers erupted inside the Halchowk Stadium as players hugged each other in the pitch after they pulled the rug from under the favored Tajiks, winners of the inaugural competition made for lower-ranked Asian nations.
Prior to Tuesday’s feat, both squads are locked in second place, courtesy of an identical 1-1-0 (win-loss) slate. The Philippines last faced Tajikistan in the qualifying round of the 2008 edition but that ended in a goalless draw.
Tajikistan, eleven places higher than the Philippines (rank no. 156) in the Fifa rankings, took the upperhand in first half injury time via a header of Alexey Negmatov.
But this failed to dampen the spirits of the Azkals, who also made history for moving past the qualifying playoffs and qualifying group eliminations last year.
After conceding two goals to defending champion North Korea on March 9, the Philippines humbled 2008 winner India last Sunday to keep the country in contention, which was a fitting gift for the 52nd birthday of Azkals’ German mentor Michael Weiss.
“Congrats to the guys! Way to move us up in the football world! Keep it going!” Azkals member Anton del Rosario said in his Twitter account.
Next stop for the Philippines is a Final Four meeting with Turkmenistan on Friday at 4:30 p.m. The winner of the knockout match will arrange a championship date with the victor in the other semifinal game between North Korea and Palestine. (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)