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Azkals swallow first Qualifiers loss against clinical Uzbekistan



A shocking early goal given away by the Azkals led to their first loss in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia and 2019 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers, as they eventually suffered a 5-1 defeat at the hands of Uzbekistan, Tuesday evening at the Philippine Sports Stadium, Bocaue, Bulacan.

The visitors proved their billing as the favorites early on, as they pulled off a goal just 46 seconds into the match. Team Captain Server Djeparov found Odil Akhmedov on top of the box, who pierced through the defense and Azkals keeper, Neil Etheridge, with the breakthrough goal. Gaining an early edge, Uzbekistan continued with their pressing game that tested the Philippine defense, which momentarily held its ground.

On the other side of the pitch, the Azkals attempted to attack from the flanks, only to be denied by the visitors. The Uzbekistan team denied a pass from Manny Ott to Javier Patiño, stopping the attack. The hosts were able to control possession, but the opposition gave them a dose of their own medicine on defense. Uzbekistan then quickly switched from defense to offense in the vicinity of the 14th minute, once again turning the tide. From the middle, Temurkhuja Abdukholiqov sent the ball to Sardov Rashidov for a vicious left-footed strike past Etheridge to double the lead. Another opportunity came soon after when the White Wolves’ forward, Igor Sergeev, tried to operate inside the box. Fortunately for the hosts, Daisuke Sato crucially cleared the ball for a corner kick. In the ensuing play, the goal-scorer Rashidov sent a lovely ball into the box and connected with Sergeev, who headed the ball wide.

The Philippines had had enough of the opponents’ onslaught, as they wrestled the momentum in the latter part of the first period. At the 23rd minute, the Uzbek defense cleared a Jerry Lucena forward pass to Patiño on top of the box. Five minutes after, Martin Steuble found Misagh Bahadoran on the flank, who was fouled. Steuble muffed the ensuing free kick, and sent it over the bar. The midfielder nearly rectified his error just a minute after when he found Patiño inside the box. The Spanish-born striker tried to head the ball into the goal, but his shot did not find the back of the net.

The Azkals then continued to dominate the possession, but the Uzbeks use their pace on the transition for the counterattack. After several runs into the opposing final third, the visitors knocked off the resistance at the 43rd minute and put the game beyond Azkals’ reach even before the halftime whistle. Furthermore, Seergev would not be denied this time, as he broke free from the defense of Lucena and Stephen Palla, and slotted the ball past Etheridge for his squad’s third goal as the match went into the break.

Before the start of the second half, Stephan Schrock went into the game for Iain Ramsay, in hopes of sparking a rally for the home team. It was the visitors, however, who continued to play excellently and who snatched another goal at the 65th minute. After a missed chance from skipper Djeparov, Sergeev guided the ball into the onion bag and off to the fingertips of Etheridge for his second of the match. Two minutes after, Uzbekistan was called on a foul against Schrock on the left flank a few yards away from the box. The long-time Azkal took the consequent free kick and blasted a curving ball into the near post and out of the reach of the visiting custodian, Aleksandr Lobanov. As a result, the Philippines trimmed the deficit, 1-4.

However, the Central Asians were just too good and peppered the Philippine defense with several attempts on goal. After several cleared attempts, Rashidov also got to register a brace at the 80th minute to put the icing on the impending away win. The forward took advantage of a poor clearance and found space to operate for the goal. On the other hand, the Azkals persisted with two consecutive attempts from Schrock and Patiño. All further attempts were denied by Lobanov leaving the Azkals wanting, as the full-time whistle was sounded, and Uzbekistan ran away with the victory.


Grew to appreciate various sports from tennis to judo. True-maroon kiddo since the new millennium. Fanboy. Singer. Occasional sports writer.

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