The anticipation before the match suddenly changed into fear and then relief as the Philippines watched their side go behind against Sri Lanka before equalising to salvage something from the game. The Philippines are left to look at Sunday as their last chance for a first win in the World Cup as they repeated the score of their last World Cup Qualifying outing in 2001.
Cathura’s deflected free-kick put the Sri Lankans ahead in the 41st minute. The ball was deflected off the wall to agonisingly beat Neil Etheridge in goal just before half-time. The Azkals started the second half much brighter, though, a Chieffy Caligdong free-kick looked to have crossed the line already before substitute Nate Burkey put it back into the goal to equalise and set up a tense finale in the Rizal Memorial Stadium on Sunday.
The game started quite evenly. The Sri Lankans played quite deep and threatened with quick counter-attacks surprising the Philippine defence. Schrock in particular looked threatening in central midfield as he dynamically burst past several players at once on more than one occasion. His final ball, however, didn’t quite reach its intended recipient. The story of the first half was the clear fatigue of the players. Phil Younghusband pulled up numerous times before being substituted for Nate Burkey early on while Angel Guirado was clearly not fully fit and rarely broke into full stride.
This limitation allowed the Sri Lankans to get more of the ball when Philippine attacks broke down though their main chance of the half came when a ball over the top was blocked by Etheridge who couldn’t gather it completely, but the resulting shot looped over. Etheridge was called into several routine saves though when players got free and blasted at the goal but each time the Sri Lankan players hit straight at the Fulham goalkeeper.
The Philippines by contrast had several chances, mainly through Chieffy Caligdong’s crosses and Stephan Schrock’s dominant display in the midfield. Schrock eventually won man of the match for his performance and is perhaps the Philippines’ best positive from the match. The Philippines played with their hearts on their sleeves for the first-half, James Younghusband particularly was passionate, sometimes too passionate, and was awarded a yellow card for his protests. Contesting a foul on his brother, Phil Younghusband, the player jumped into a Sri Lankan crowd and sent tempers flaring for a short while, though he did have a good game down the right flank, working the ball well for the Philippines. Their best chance of the first half came when a Chieffy corner was first only just missed by Angel Guirado then headed wide by Aly Borromeo who dived but couldn’t quite get the connection needed.
Then Sri Lanka were awarded a free-kick about twenty yards from goal. Chathura ran up and clipped the ball towards goal, cheering as it struck Rob Gier to take it out of the reach of the despairing Neil Etheridge. The Fulham goalkeeper produced a solid display throughout the game but the result overshadows those performances.
The Azkals started better in the second half, as per the Dan Palami theory, and pressed the game immediately. Their
efforts were rewarded quickly as they won a free-kick 25 yards from goal. Chieffy looped the ball in and James Younghusband seemed to glance the ball before it crossed the line. The ball bounced out and Nate Burkey knocked it back in to make sure and after some confusion the goal was awarded to Nate Burkey who trended on Twitter, at one point reaching fourth in the world on Twitter, Chieffy just one place behind at fifth.
There were several chances to win the game as from then on the Azkals continued to press for a winner but Sri Lanka’s deep defensive line kept them out most of the time. The threat of a Sri Lankan counter-attack showed when their striker Kaiz got through on several occasions, first hitting straight at Etheridge before later blatantly diving in an effort to win a penalty. Etheridge produced a good save late on as Sri Lankan substitute Nilman struck from the edge of the area forcing the keeper to palm behind for a corner.
The Philippines had their own chances to win the game, Angel Guirado striking wide a couple of times in a performance which really showed he was struggling from the tough schedule and with the injury on his right leg. That he wasn’t substituted early is a bit of mystery as the goalscorer Nate Burkey was replaced instead, giving Ian Araneta the chance to shine. As is so common with him, he almost made an immediate impact as Stephan Schrock played a magnificent lobbed through ball to the Air Force striker who controlled and forced a good save out of the Sri Lankan goalkeeper Manjula.
Questions will be asked about the Philippines but it must be remembered that after a tough training camp they are still on top for the next leg and to make it into the next round. A crucial away goal actually means the Philippines would qualify on the away goals rule if the scores remain the same but he Philippines are certainly looking for a win.
After the game Coach Weiss said “On this pitch they [Sri Lanka] play very physical… I think we were superior and if we had scored first the game would have been over.” Perhaps on some level the Philippines had grown too confident as he later remarked that “at this level you should never estimate an opponent and that was a big mistake.” Somewhat philosophically the German coach ended by saying “I’m not the happiest man in the world but I’m not too disappointed… we take the result as it is and prepare for the match on Sunday”. The German coach has already strengthed the Philippines squad significantly and the Philippine nation can trust that paired with Dan Palami the two of them can fashion a strong performance and a great result on Friday in front of a huge Philippine crowd.
Attendance at this game is roughly estimated to be at 4,000 with maybe 1,000 Filipinos making it it to the stadium to cheer on the team. They were heard throughout and really represented their country well as the team look forward to the next game. The Sri Lankan coach joked after the game that “the man of the match? Maybe the coach” as it was his tactical decisions which fashioned the draw for the underdogs.
The Philippines still have a great chance of qualification but as usual seem to be leaving it until the last minute before showing the performance they’re capable of. Like the two draws in the AFC Challenge Cup against Burma and Palestine tension is building for the final match… the whole nation now is hoping the Philippines can produce a similar performance against Sri Lanka as they did against Bangladesh when they won 3-0.
The seriousness of Phil’s injury is unknown, though, as Coach Weiss said “I don’t know how serious it is yet… it is a big setback to change our biggest striker. Hopefully he can play on Sunday”. The Philippines can remain optimistic though as Araneta looked sharp and wants to play and with other options the Philippines remain favourites. Still, the country believes in the team and looks ahead to the next game. There may be disappointment at not reaching the heights predicted before the game but the Philippines are still on top heading into the return leg. Remember to send your support to the Azkals, comment with your questions and hopes and share the news: Azkals we believe!
Man of the match: Stephan Schrock For an interview with Schrock, before the game, click here
Written by Roy Moore
Co-director of the Fairplay for All Foundation which runs Payatas FC, Kasiglahan FC and Kasiglahan Girls FC. Check out the charity and donate to support grassroots football providing education and homes for street kids: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Fairplay-For-All-Foundation/163370857062294