Saturday, December 18, 2010

Azkals need a 2-1 win over Indonesia to advance

MANILA, Philippines - A Sunday football miracle.
This is what the Philippine football team hopes to pull off as it battles Indonesia in the second leg of the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup semifinals at the Gelaro Bung Karno Stadium at 8 p.m. on Sunday.
After narrowly losing the opening match, 0-1, last Thursday, the Filipinos need to win by 2 goals to secure their first finals appearance in Southeast Asia’s biggest football tournament.
With the "away goals" rule being applied, a 2-1 win will also be enough for the phenomenal Azkals, who once again are the heavy underdogs in the semifinal matchup.
Because the aggregate tally of both matches will count, a draw would actually be enough for the Indonesians to advance, while a 1-0 victory by the Filipinos will send the game into extra time.
Should the series still be tied after that, the outcome will boil down to a penalty shootout, with the better team qualifying for the championship either against Malaysia or defending champion Vietnam, which played their second leg in Hanoi on Saturday.
Team manager Dan Palami remains upbeat and undaunted by his charges chances, judging from the way they have bucked tremendous odds on their way to reaching this stage of the soccer series
“One of the best things about this team is its never-say-die spirit,” Palami said. “We still have 90 minutes to come back.”
His sentiments were echoed by Mariano Araneta who was unanimously voted as the new Philippine Football Federation president during the PFF’s National Congress last November and was a witness to last Thursday’s riveting semifinal game.
“The boys’ morale is high and while there were tears inside the dugout after the close loss, they quickly recovered and look forward to Sunday’s rematch,” said Araneta. He joined the Azkals on the team bus to the stadium after they were treated to a late dinner by Jakarta-based Filipino expatriates.
Araneta left Jakarta last Friday and arrived in Manila the same day to attend to PFF duties back home.
RP’s share of gate receipts
In what appeared to be a victory of sorts to his leadership, Araneta disclosed that the AFF intends to deposit the Philippine share of the gate receipts last Thursday to the federation’s account and not hand it over the check to Jose Mari Martinez who was ousted in last month’s PFF general meeting.
Cristian Gonzales delivered the marginal goal in the first leg, capitalizing on a defensive mix-up by goalkeeper Neil Etheridge and fullback Ray Jonnson in the 34th minute.
The Filipinos have shown remarkable resolve to come back in 3 of their last 9 matches, but they are faced with a tougher task against the slick-passing Indonesians who are backed by rabid fans.
These are the same fans whom national coach Simon McMenemy described as the “12th man” in last Thursday’s pivotal game and who are expected to come out in full force once again to root and cheer for the hosts.
The RP booters returned to training on Saturday after taking a day off last Friday.
McMenemy believes his squad still has a golden chance to snatch the victory from the Indonesians.
“If you go chasing a game when you're 1-0 down in a two-leg tie and you concede two or three, then you've lost the tie,” he said. “So it was very important that we stayed disciplined in the first leg although we had the setback of the goal.”
Indonesia’s Austrian coach Alfred Reidl is wary of the threat posed by the Filipinos.
"We must remember that our place in the final is not secured yet,” Reidl said. “We still have a very difficult match to play (on Sunday).”
"A 1-0 lead is still a very dangerous scoreline so we will have to play to win the second match as well,” he added.
“It will be too dangerous to play for a draw in the second leg so we cannot afford to play defensively.”

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