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Azkals rout foe, forge SEA Peace Cup Final



Rain flooded the Rizal Memorial Stadium pitch with water, while a dominant Azkals side flooded the Chinese Taipei net with goals. The Philippine Azkals trampled Chinese Taipei 5-1 on a waterlogged field this Wednesday, as UFL top gun Mark Hartmann fired in a brace after a lengthy second-half rain delay. The Azkals march on to the 2014 Peace Cup Final against regional rivals Myanmar, who dispatched Challenge Cup champions Palestine, 4-1, in similarly merciless fashion.

After toying with an adventurous 3-5-2 formation in the Azkals’ friendly against Global FC, Philippines Head Coach Thomas Dooley opted for a standard 4-4-2 formation to start the contest against Chinese Taipei. The Azkals’ boss showed his commitment to youth development by starting a trio of 19-year olds in defence. The Global FC pair of centerback Amani Aguinaldo and fullback Daisuke Sato, along with Kaya FC fullback Kenshiro Daniels, joined veteran Azkals captain Rob Gier in the Philippines’ back four. With the Stephen Shrock option off the table due to lingering differences with Dooley, the Philippines relied on combative stalwart Jason de Jong and burgeoning midfield general Manny Ott to man the centre of the pitch. The fleet-footed Misagh Bahadoran and attack-minded Paul Mulders rounded out the Azkals midfield. Up top, the Younghusband brothers looked to be the team’s offensive focal point. The safe hands of Roland Mueller started between the posts for the Philippines.

The inexperienced backline looked nervy in the opening minutes of the match, as Chinese Taipei pressed the youthful Azkals high up the pitch. Aguinaldo, apparently out of sync with the fullbacks and midfielders, delivered two shaky clearances straight to the opposition’s offense. The Philippines survived the resulting Chinese Taipei opportunities, shrugged off its nerves, and proceeded to authoritatively control the length of the field. The first 25 minutes were all Azkals, all over the pitch, as the entire team doggedly attacked the Chinese Taipei defence, while relentlessly recycling possession. Aside from the Azkals’ initial miscues, Chinese Taipei barely got a touch in the first quarter of the match. The Azkals possession was rewarded with a goal in the 25th minute, as quick-thinking Rob Gier’s stooping header deftly guided a corner kick past the marooned Chinese Taipei keeper. The goal woke the lethargic Chinese Taipei side, as they responded promptly by testing Mueller with a stinging shot from distance. A reinvigorated Chinese Taipei loosened slightly the Philippines’ stranglehold on the game, but the night was to belong solely to the Azkals. James Younghusband capped off a beautiful passing move with a simple tap in to give the Philippines its second strike of the match, and a 2-0 lead heading into halftime.

A pair of Chinese Taipei substitutions after the break livened up proceedings further. The undaunted visitors scared the Azkals with a flurry of chances in the first 5 minutes of the second half. The Azkals responded with a header flashed just wide of the post, as the game’s tempo suddenly shifted into high gear. At the 57 minute mark, the ominous crackle of thunder overhead necessitated a delay in the proceedings, and the two teams trudged into the lockers for what would turn out to be an hour-long interruption. What should have been a brief lightning delay was compounded by the flooding of the artificial turf at Rizal Memorial Stadium. The weakening of the rain and effectiveness of RMS’ new drainage system meant the field was close to playing condition after about an hour. During that intermission, Phil Younghusband helped speed his team’s return to action by playfully assisting the ground staff in sweeping away the stubborn pools of water left on the pitch.

He would wind up sweeping away the last stubborn remnants of Chinese Taipei resistance as well. 8 minutes after the game’s second restart, Phil Younghusband latched onto a through ball down the left channel, and burst past two step-slow Chinese Taipei defenders. His left-footed diagonal into the penalty box was met with panic by Chen Yi Wei, who awkwardly slid in P. Younghusband’s cross into the Chinese Taipei goal, earning the Philippines a 3-0 lead. The Philippines’ third goal also turned out to be one of Phil Younghusband’s final contributions in the match, as in the 72nd minute, Dooley rotated out most of his core players. Gier and the Younghusband brothers left the field with the Azkals faithful’s appreciative applause in the background. The introduction of UFL leading scorer Mark Hartmann and the versatile Patrick Reichelt turned out to be additional bad news for the beleaguered Chinese Taipei team. Within 2 minutes of action, Mark Hartmann knocked in the Philippines’ 4th goal. Reichelt broke down the Chinese Taipei left flank with clever movement, before delivering an inch-perfect ball to the lurking Hartmann. Chinese Taipei salvaged some pride in the 79th minute with a consolation goal by Yen Ho-Shen, after Patrick Deyto, who came in for Mueller after the lightning delay restart, miscued a clearance straight to the Chinese. Yen Ho-Shen’s meekly-hit drive somehow squeaked by the sprawled Deyto, who will be ruing the missed opportunity to notch a clean sheet for the Philippines. Hartmann made certain that Filipino fans would go home on a high note though, as he scored his second with only a minute left in regulation.

In the earlier match, Myanmar and their talismanic number 10 overwhelmed a Palestinian team cobbled together at the last minute. Azkals fans hoping to see the side that nipped the Philippines in the Challenge Cup final were sorely disappointed, as a makeshift Palestinian side crumbled under unyielding Burmese pressure. The attacking trio of Kyaw Zayar Win, Tin Win Aung and Southeast Asian superstar Kyaw Ko Ko ran riot in the Burmese’ 4-1 demolition of Palestine. Kyaw Zayar Win scored a double for “The White Angels”, but it was Kyaw Ko Ko who most impressed on the pitch. The Yangon United forward, dubbed the “Burmese Messi”, orchestrated the blowout victory with his silky skills. His highlight reel play came in the 77th minute, when he engineered Myanmar’s fourth goal with an audacious flick overhead to beat two encroaching defenders. Kyaw Ko Ko dribbled past not one, but two more shell-shocked Palestinian defenders, before squaring the ball to Nanda Lin Kyaw Chit for the Burmese’ final tally.

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