By Heidi Nicodemus
Despite losing 0-1 in its first game in the 2019 Asian Cup where it was making its debut, the Philippine Azkals have actually exceeded expectations by nearly stealing the thunder from South Korea.
Some may sneer at the loss, saying “a defeat is still a defeat,” that’s probably because they’ve forgotten that the Azkals’ first game nemesis are a two-time champion of the continent’s premier football tournament and also a perennial World Cup contender.
Those credentials alone make Korea’s Taeguk Warriors heavy favorites to humiliate our countrymen in Dubai, which luckily is one of the cities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that is hosting this year’s edition of the Asian Cup.
The East Asian team, ranked fourth in Asia, is also a top pick to take home the 2019 trophy.
Meanwhile, the Philippines is 21st in the continent, a spot that should have made the Azkals slim pickings for South Korea, which has had 13 Asian Cup appearances.
But the Philippine XI’s coach—the Swede Sven-Goran Eriksson—nearly ruined the title aspirations of the South Koreans.
The Azkals showed they were ready to do battle with the Warriors with an on-target attempt in the 40th minute from Javier Patino but with the clear shot at goal being denied by their opponents’ goalkeeper.
Not to be intimidated, Patino tried again in the 53rd minute but was again thwarted by the Korean goalie.
It was not until the 67th minute that the Taeguk Warriors pulled off the ‘Great Escape’ with a shot that hit the back of the net to seal the game for the Koreans.
The commentator for the match two days ago at the Al-Maktoum Stadium in Dubai called the game as “fabulous,” which is hardly a word that one would use to describe a game between the Warriors (FIFA rank: 53) and the Azkals (FIFA rank: 116).
But he did, and we believe that the Philippine Azkals would be marvelous in their next clashes with best footballers in Asia.
That comes with the belief that truly the ball is round, meaning anything is possible, and although a football is not really round, we wish the best of luck and the breaks for Eriksson’s boys.
The Swedish mentor said after the match: “I am proud of the team that went out there. We stood out to them. They (Koreans) had the ball much more than we had, but we created some chances and with a little bit of luck, we could have gotten a different result.”