Azkals make history in victory over Tajikistan

Posted at 03/13/2012 7:25 PM | Updated as of 03/14/2012 7:58 AM

Phil Younghusband scores a goal against Tajikistan.

MANILA, Philippines (1st UPDATE) – The Philippine Azkals continued their Cinderella run in the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup by barging into the semifinals with a historic win over Tajikistan on Tuesday. 

The Philippine side toppled another former champion in Tajikistan, 2-1, at the Halchowk Stadium in Kathmandu to catch the last ride for the Challenge Cup semis.

Phil Younghusband and Angel Guirado scored the crucial goals in the 53rd and the 80th minute of the game to bring the Azkals to the next round.

With the win, the Azkals achieved their initial target of duplicating the same feat they attained in the 2010 Suzuki Cup.

“We've always wanted to go to the semis. This is the first time that the Philippines have actually entered the final stage,” Azkals team manager Dan Palami said.

This was the second straight win by the Azkals against a former Challenge Cup champion.

Prior to their game against the Tajiks, the Filipinos pushed 2008 titlist India out of contention with a 2-0 beating last Sunday.

Surprise in first half

Although Tajikistan enjoyed more ball possessions in the first half, the Filipinos were consistent in attacking the Tajiks’ goal.

Younghusband, who scored two goals against India, had attempts in the 2nd and 8th minute.

Guirado also struck a header in the 28th minute, but his shot sailed over the crossbar.

The Tajiks, however, pulled off a stunner in first-half injury time when an Alexey-Negmatov-header went through the Azkals' goal line.

The Filipinos appealed before the referees, but game officials ruled in favor of the Persian Lions and gave them a 1-0 advantage over the Azkals.

Fightback

Minutes into the second half, the nationals fired back at their Central Asian counterparts.

Younghusband equalized the game for the Philippines by scoring a goal off a pass from Guirado.

This leveled the score to 1-1 in the 53rd minute.

After failing to convert a goal in the 78th minute, Guirado pushed the Philippine side to a 2-1 lead against the Tajiks with a header in the 80th minute.

The Persian Lions tried hard to equalize the game, but they fell short in the face of the Azkals’ defense.

The Philippine side was the more aggressive team, with 14 shots at the goal against Tajikistan's 7.

This forced the Tajik keeper to work extra hard with 11 saves, compared to Neil Etherdige's 2 saves.

The Azkals also had 7 shots on target compared to the Tajiks' 5.

The Philippines will join defending champion North Korea, Turkmenistan and Palestine in the semifinal round.

The Azkals earned a qualification in the 2012 Challenge Cup final group by carving out a sensational 3-0 win over Mongolia in March 2011.

Semifinals

The Philippine Azkals will now have to go through 2010 runner-up Turkmenistan to earn a ticket in the Challenge Cup finals.

The two teams will square off on Friday.

The Azkals appear to be the stronger team on paper as they enjoy a higher FIFA ranking than Turkmenistan.

In the FIFA rankings, the Philippines is No. 156, while Turkmenistan is ranked 166th.

However, the Azkals will have to play the semifinal match minus 2 key players.

Guirado and James Younghusband each incurred their second yellow card in the Tajikistan game.

The two Azkals were also penalized during the Philippines’ skirmish against India.

Team coach Michael Weiss is expected to make adjustments to fill in the void left by James and Guirado.

Although making it to the semis was the team’s initial goal, Palami said the Azkals are ready to push their campaign toward the the Challenge Cup finals.

“If we make it to the finals, that will be a dream come true," he said.