IT WOULD be easy to dismiss the friendly between the Philippines and China as just another loss for the Azkals as both teams prepare for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.
Owing to their rankings in the AFC, both teams have earned a bye to the second round group matches that will start in September. China is ranked seventh in Asia, while the Philippines is 23rd.
Although the Azkals stood their ground against a far stronger yet familiar opponent last Friday, June 7, 2019 in the packed Tianhe Stadium in Guangzhou, China, it would have been an impressive game for the visitors if not for the two goals they conceded.
The first goal in the 14th minute ensued after a lapse of concentration when the Azkals lost possession down the right flank, and Alvaro Silva’s half-hearted challenge of a cross saw midfielder Wu Xi volleying the ball past goalkeeper Michael Falkesgaard.
The second goal on the 54th minute was the result of poor defending as well. Luke Woodland lost an aerial battle on the edge of the box that allowed the ball to fall in front of an unmarked Zhang Xizhe, who then beat the onrushing Falkesgaard to score China’s second of the night.
The second goal was unfortunate in a sense that Falkesgaard earlier made a spectacular diving save off a free kick.
Any chance of scoring in the Chinese homeland disappeared when the Azkals were reduced to 10 men 15 minutes later after Daisuke Sato picked up his second yellow for a red card.
And yet that second goal would be China’s last for the evening against a now undermanned Azkals who played valiantly in front of a massively partisan crowd that filled the stadium from end to end.
Friday night’s match was an improvement compared to the last time the two sides met in the Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates last January, when the Azkals lost 3-0. The Azkals even created early chances but just couldn’t hit the target.
That said, there remains a gulf in class between China and the Philippines, but the latter has consistently been narrowing that gulf inch by inch, match after match.
And for Philippines coach Scott Cooper, that seems like a good indicator that the Azkals might just yet make an impact when the WC qualifiers kick off in September.