Azkals Begin Asian Cup Campaign with Five-Goal Thriller Against Nepal

Photo from the PFF

Azkals Begin Asian Cup Campaign with Five-Goal Thriller Against Nepal

The Philippine Men’s National Team began their AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers campaign on the right foot as they inflicted a 4-1 win over 10-man Nepal last night at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

Phil Younghusband scored twice to ensure the Philippines collected maximum points in their opening Group F match. Iain Ramsay and Javier Patino were the other goalscorers for the Azkals.

“It’s the first game of the group and we wanted a good start,” said Younghusband. “Although we wanted a win in the friendlies, it’s all preparation for the big one. Our goal is to be in the Asian Cup.”

Coach Thomas Dooley reshuffled his squad from the Malaysia friendly. After a prolonged absences from the lineup, Carlie De Murga made his first start for the Azkals at right back while Jeffrey Christiaens was on the left side. Amani Aguinaldo and Daisuke Sato were the heart of defense. Dennis Villanueva and James Younghusband controlled the midfield with Ramsay and Mike Ott manning the flanks. Younghusband and Patiño were deployed up front.

The Philippines began the match blazing and gained a man advantage in the 12th minute as the Azkals won a penalty. Defender Bikram Lama was sent off for handling the ball after a Patiño header. Phil Younghusband stepped up to take the penalty but was denied by Kiran Limbu.

Nine minutes later, the Philippines won a second penalty kick after Ananta Tamang brought down Ott in the box. Younghusband had the chance to redeem himself and duly converted his 44th international goal.

“My dad always told me that when you’ve missed one, it’s important (that) you take the next one because otherwise that would play on your mind until the time you do score.” said Younghusband on the two penalty kicks. “It’s always important to get a goal as soon as possible when you do miss a penalty because then you forget the missed one and I was happy I was able to have another chance.”

The opening goal set the tone for the Azkals as they scored two more goals in a span of eight minutes. Younghusband got his second of the night — and 45th overall — after a neat pass from Ott left Limbu in no man’s land.

Ramsay added a third in the 27th minute. A mad scramble inside the penalty box allowed the winger to smash in a volley from inside the box.

It seemed to be smooth sailing for the Azkals from then on. However, Nepal exposed the Azkals defense right before half-time as the visitors reduced the cushion with a decent effort from substitute Bishal Rai to end the first half at 3-1.

However, Patiño restored the three-goal cushion to extinguish any hopes of a Nepalese comeback in the in the 73rd minute. The forward was given enough space in the box and rifled a shot past Limbu to put a stamp in their first Asian Cup qualifier match.

Dooley was fairly impressed with the outcome of the match despite the lone conceded goal. The Philippines sits atop Group F level with Yemen, who won 2-1 against Tajikistan, at three points, but the Philippines have a better goal differential.

“Overall, I’m very happy with the three points,” said Dooley. “After we scored the first goal, we were able to create more chances.”

Up next for the Azkals in the Asian Cup Qualifiers is a match against Tajikistan on June 13 in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. — CAL

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