In an Asian Cup that thus far has veered endearingly off script, the Philippines almost provided another shock to the establishment.
The debutants, expected to vie for third in Group C at best, held firm in Dubai for much of Monday’s match against two-time champions South Korea, only to surrender to Hwang Ui-jo’s close-range strike midway through the second half.
Champions in 1956 and 1960, the Koreans are attempting to snap a 59-year drought. Still, they rank among the obvious favourites for the title.
They were far from their vintage best at the resplendently remodelled Al Maktoum Stadium, however, at least they got the job done.
A 1-0 victory secured three points and the necessary introduction to the tournament. For the Philippines, despite departing without a point to show for their endeavour, there were positives aplenty.
Granted, they could not quite follow on from surprise results achieved across the event’s first few days by Bahrain, Jordan and India. But there was much to build upon ahead of upcoming clashes with China and Kyrgyzstan.
“Congratulations to South Korea, they played well, they won - we cannot complain too much about that,” Eriksson, the Philippines manager, said afterwards. “But we should be proud - I am proud - of the team we had out there.
"We stood up to them, they had the ball much more than we had, but we created some chances. And, with a little bit of luck, we could’ve done a different result.
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“We showed the people here, the stadium, all those in front of television, that this country can play football.”
At times, the Philippines certainly did. Yet they were dogged and determined, stifling superior opponents for large swathes of the first half in particular. The opening 45 minutes were petering out before exploding into life right before the break.
First, Philippines goalkeeper Michael Falkesgaard saved low from Hwang’s smart swivel and shot. Then, on a rare foray deep into Korean territory, Kevin Ingreso’s stretching cross along the 18-yard line found striker Javier Patino, whose sweetly struck volley was parried to safety by Kim Seung-gyu in the opposition goal.
Almost immediately, at the other end, Hwang’s close-range effort seemed destined for the net, only for Falkesgaard’s planted leg to deflect the ball from danger.
The Filipino goalkeeper was performing admirably in the absence of Neil Etheridge, the Cardiff City stopper and regular No 1, who has not travelled to the UAE for the tournament.
Much to their credit, the Philippines emerged from the interval with newfound gusto. On a couple of occasions they broke well, but when the best chance fell to Patino on 54 minutes, he side-footed tamely towards Kim.
Not long after, against the run of play, South Korea grabbed their winner. A neat, 67th-minute move between substitute Lee Chung-yong and Hwang Hee-chan found Hwang, who twisted and dispatched his shot past Falkesgaard.
The striker had other chances to make the game more comfortable for his side, who will not have Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-min until their third match. But the Philippines stood strong.
Paulo Bento, the South Korea manager, was simply content to have eventually broken down obdurate opponents.
“The intensity we played today was good,” the Portuguese said. “It’s not easy to play against a team who put a lot of players behind the ball, because sometimes you lose some patience to keep playing.
“But after the goal we had more spaces and more chances to score again. In the end it was a deserved victory for my team and an important victory for us.”