The Philippine Men’s National Football Team may have lost their inaugural game in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, but they refused to go down easy against heavily-favored South Korea.
Up against a team 63 places above them in the FIFA World Rankings, the Azkals fought tooth and nail for a result. But South Korean forward Hwang Uijo’s second half strike allowed Paulo Bento’s team to win, 1-0, Monday evening at the Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai.
The result leaves South Korea joint top of Group C with 3 points, alongside China, who beat Kyrgyzstan earlier in the day by a 2-1 scoreline.
Sven-Goran Eriksson’s strategy for the Philippines was apparent right from kick-off. With a 5-4-1 formation, the Azkals sought to be solid defensively and sneak a counterattack past the South Korean defense.
“I think we played the best, one of the best (performances) for sure in this tournament. We created chances against them. That gives us hope in the next two games in this group that we can do something even better,” the Swedish tactician shared.
Except for attempts from Manuel Ott and Javier Patiño, South Korea was rarely troubled in its own half. It perhaps should have broken the deadlock multiple times if not for the Philippines’ superb defending, led by the exemplary Alvaro Silva.
South Korean midfielder Jung Wooyoung and forward Hwang Uijo threatened to score past Philippines goalkeeper Michael Falkesgaard, but the former saw his free kick go narrowly over the Azkals’ bar, while the latter was denied twice by the 27-year-old stopper.
Come the second half, the Filipinos showed more bravery on the opposite end of the pitch. Patiño demonstrated why he is the Philippines’ most lethal marksman when he penetrated the South Korean box and had a sniff at goal, but South Korea goalie Kim Seunggyu was on hand to save it.
However, South Korea was still in control of the match. And Paulo Bento’s men finally broke the deadlock in the 66th minute when Hwang Uijo found space in the Philippine box and shot past Falkesgaard for the winning goal.
It may not have been the dream start that the Azkals and Filipino football fans craved, but they can take solace in the fact that the Philippines did not meekly surrender against a perennial World Cup team.
“I think we, after this game even if we lost it, the confidence went up. I spoke briefly with the players in the dressing room and I think the mood is good. It’s good and they know they did a good job,” Eriksson added.
The Philippines hopes to bounce back when it faces China on January 11, 2019 at the Mohamed bin Zayed Stadium. Kickoff time is 9:30 PM Philippine time.
Philippines XI: Falkesgaard (GK), Silva, Strauss, Woodland, Manu. Ott, Sato, Palla, Ingreso, Schrock (C), Reichelt, Patino.
South Korea XI: Seung Gyu Kim (GK), Yong Lee, Min-Jae Kim, Young-Gwon Kim (C), Jin-Su Kim, Woo-Young Jung, Sung-Yueng Ki, Jae-Sung Lee, Ja-Cheol Koo, Hee Chan Hwang, Ui Jo