Azkals off to Maldives after beating Turkmenistan
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Phil Younghusband powered the Azkals past Turkmenistan, 1-0, to help the Philippines finish on top of their group in the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers on Tuesday.
Younghusband's right-footed shot to the goal punctuated a brilliant play from teammates Dennis Gacara and Javier Patino, who pierced the Turkmens' defense in the 66th.
The lone goal helped the Azkals avenge their heartbreaking loss to Turkmenistan, which won their 2012 semis faceoff 2-1.
The victory also formalized the Philippines' entry to the 2014 Challenge Cup main tournament in the Maldives.
"Turkmenistan was the one we needed to beat," said Azkals coach Michael Weiss after the game.
"We didn't want to qualify as the best second-placed team, we wanted to win this match."
The Azkals ended on top of the heap with 9 points on 9 goals, followed by Turkmenistan with 6 points on 7 goals.
Cambodia ended up with 3 points, while Brunei withdrew from the competition.
The Filipino booters came out solid by matching the Turkmens' physicality throughout the match.
The intensity came with a price as the Azkals incurred a total of 4 yellow cards, while the Turkmens had 3.
Among those booked was Younghusband himself, who was sent off for getting 2 yellow cards in the match.
As a result, he will miss the Azkals' first match in the main tourney.
Despite the bruising game, most of the Azkals delivered the goods against the Turkmenistan Green Men.
Stephan Schrock and newcomer Patino were particularly threatening.
Rob Gier, man-of-the match Dennis Cagara, and keeper Roland Muller also held the fort in defense.
“We were well prepared, we knew they would come hard because they needed to win. It was a very good fight,” said Cagara.
“It means everything for me to be here,” said Schrock, who missed the game against Turkmenistan in the semis.
“You know I'm not here everytime. But this is where my heart is, and so proud when I'm playing in front of the home crowd.”
He also marvelled at the transition of their game from offense to defense and vice-versa.
Schrock attributed the success to their improved cohesion.
“Everything works together now better, and the cohesion comes in more and more, who knows how far we can go?”
Muller, who earned a clean sheet, was happy to be a part of the victory.
Among the highlights of his performance was his save in the 93rd minute when the Green Men launched a last-ditch effort to level the game.
“There's a lot of pressure but we made a great game in defense,” he said. “In the offense we got a couple of chances, then we made the goal. It was good work. I'm happy we won 1-0.”
The Azkals will join other qualifiers in the main tournament, which will be held in Maldives in 2014.
Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and Palestine topped Groups A, B, C and D respectively.