For the third straight time, the Philippine Azkals are in the semifinals of the AFF Suzuki Cup. And they did it by ending an 80-year drought.
The Azkals essayed an astonishing 4-0 victory over regional powerhouse Indonesia, their first over the Merah Putih since 1934, on Tuesday night at the My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi, Vietnam to clinch another return ticket to the semifinals of the region’s most prestigious football tournament.
Riding high on an equally impressive 4-1 win over Laos last Saturday, the PH side rode high on a relentless offensive attack and solid defensive schemes to get back at the surprisingly outclassed Indonesian side.
The masterful victory enabled the Azkals to claim six points in Group A and clinch the first semifinal ticket of the eight-nation tournament.
Aside from pushing the Merah Putih on the brink of elimination following the latter’s 2-2 draw with host Vietnam in the opener last Saturday, the Azkals also gained some measure of revenge on a pair of 0-1 defeats to Indonesia in the semifinal round of the AFF Suzuki Cup in 2010.
The victory is expected to go down as one of the best for the Azkals, who went into the match out to play above their 1-19-2 (win-loss-draw) record against the Merah Putih, who even scored a staggering 13-1 victory over the Philippines in 2002.
Proving they still have plenty of bite left, the Azkals took the game to the Merah Putih and, after several tries, were amply rewarded when Misagh Bahadoran got fouled by defender Firman Utina when they were chasing down the leather at the penalty box.
Phil Younghusband made sure Bahadoran’s exploits won’t go to waste via penalty kick as he fired the go-ahead marker to the right of Indonesia goalie Kurnia Megia in the 15th minute.
Following the break, Bahadoran made another strong play when he fed Manny Ott with a slick pass at the penalty curve, enabling the Ceres midfielder to drill in one powerful goal into the net over the outstretched arms of the 6-foot-1 Megia in the 52nd minute.
It was all downhill from there for the Indonesians as they gave up an indirect free kick inside the penalty due to an infraction by Megia. Instead of lining up to defend, the Merah Putih argued with the referee, allowing Younghusband to quickly flick a slight pass to Martin Steuble for an unmolested goal in the 68th.
Frustration on the side of the Indonesians reached its boiling point in the 74th when defender Rizky Pora was slapped with his second yellow card after tackling Younghusband.
Far from done, the Azkals continued to pounce on, with Rob Gier turning a foiled header into an easy right-foot tap in the 80th.
The Azkals gun for a fitting windup in the group play when they battle host Vietnam this Friday. Assuming Vietnam beat Laos, they only need a draw against the hosts to clinch top spot in their group.
The last time a Philippine side beat an Indonesian side was at the 1934 Far Eastern Games in Manila, when the hosts beat the Dutch East Indies 3-2.