Injuries threaten to take lustre off Philippines win at Challenge Cup

Needing a win to stay on course for the AFC Challenge Cup semi-finals, the Philippines beat Laos 2-0 at Hithadhoo Stadium on Thursday to temporarily go top of Group B, writes Paul Freeland from the Maldives.

HITHADHOO, MALDIVES // The Philippines leave the southernmost atoll of the Maldives with four points and a bit of history in hand, even if securing them came at a price.

Needing a win to stay on course for the AFC Challenge Cup semi-finals, the Philippines beat Laos 2-0 at Hithadhoo Stadium on Thursday to temporarily go top of Group B. Goals from Simone Rota and Patrick Reichelt gave the Azkals their first win over Laos.

Thomas Dooley, the Philippines coach, said he was not concerned with matching the five goals Turkmenistan scored against Laos in their first group match.

“We knew we had to win the game to continue on our path. It wasn’t important for me to score five goals when everybody says you have to score five goals. It’s only important for us to win the game,” he said.

“If it’s 1-0 or 2-0, I don’t care. If you can score more goals, that would be great, but if you think at the beginning about how many goals you’re going to score, most likely you’re going to lose.

“I was trying to get that out of the heads of the players and only focus on winning the game and getting the three points.”

The Philippines now travel to the capital, Male, to face the two-time Challenge Cup runners-up Turkmenistan in Saturday’s group finale. Afghanistan beat Turkmenistan 3-1 in Hithadhoo in Thursday’s other match.

The winner of the tournament earns a berth in the Asian Cup, the top international competition in the Asian Football Confederation. The UAE have already qualified for the January event in Australia.

In addition to calmer seas en route to the match, the Azkals enjoyed smoother sailing on the pitch, compared to Tuesday. While Afghanistan’s aggressive pressing with their front four kept the Philippines from being able to build from the back, Laos hung back and allowed their opponents to dictate play. The Philippines dominated possession but still found creating clear chances a challenge.

Just as against Afghanistan, the first chance came on a set piece, with Juan Guirado heading against the crossbar from a Phil Younghusband corner kick after nine minutes. It fell to Rota, though, to break the deadlock after 32 minutes of probing. Stephan Schrock weaved through several Laos defenders in the box before seeing his shot saved, and Rota struck a one-time shot into the top corner to put the Azkals in front.

Schrock’s persistence paid off in a goal again after 63 minutes, earning a corner kick with tenacious work down the left. James Younghusband’s ensuing delivery found Reichelt, who headed just inside the right post to double the lead. James Younghusband had a chance to make it 3-0 late in the match but shot over the bar from 10 yards while unmarked.

Dooley said he was pleased with his team’s ability to create chances, if not finish them.

“We had many chances, a couple headers where the timing was off, we jumped a little too late or came a little too close, all those little details that a team at a higher level would finish. Sometimes, you’re just a little bit off,” he said.

“Phil had one or two chances he would normally finish. Those are things that if you really want to kill somebody, that’s what you have to do. If you get two chances, you have to score one goal. If you get six, seven, eight chances and score only two, you have to think about it. But we wanted to win this game no matter what, so that’s why it’s OK.”

Victory may have come at a long-term cost for the Philippines. Defender Juan Guirado left the field injured five minutes into the second half and, though he was able to walk back to the bench under his own power, Dooley said he “might be out for the whole tournament.”

Likewise, the Fulham goalkeeper Neil Etheridge was not on the bench on Thursday after starting against Afghanistan and may not return to action after injuring his knee.

“I’m happy with the players we have, otherwise we wouldn’t have called them in,” Dooley said. “It would be better to have everyone on board and have your choices be broader. The more choice you have, the better it is. I believe in the players, no matter who it is. I trust the players.”

The Philippines travel to Male knowing even a point against Turkmenistan may be enough to reach the semi-finals, depending on results elsewhere. Laos, meanwhile, were eliminated from their first continental tournament after their second defeat. They face Afghanistan in Hithadhoo on Saturday, with both Group B matches kicking off at 3pm UAE time.

Norio Tsukitate, the Laos coach, was downcast after the loss but said his players would do their best for their country.

“Our last game is very important for us. Our team is very young, and maybe the last game will be a good experience for us,” he said.

“I told the players before the game, ‘We must have more confidence. We have a responsibility to all the Lao people, so you must play 100 per cent today.’

“The players understand we are the Laos national team and we have to do our best for the Lao people. We needed to score in the second half, but you cannot change in one day their tactics, their physique or their technique.”

Afghanistan 3, Turkmenistan 1

Afghanistan recorded their first victory in the Challenge Cup by beating Turkmenistan in a rain-soaked, incident-packed match. Haroon Fakhrudin lifted the Afghans to a half-time lead by heading in a Faysal Shayesteh corner kick just before the break. Shayesteh created his team’s second goal, as well, centring for Ahmad Hatifi to double the lead after 61 minutes.

That goal signaled the start of a wet and wild half-hour. Just three minutes later, Guvanch Abylov tore down the left flank and crossed to give Suleyman Muhadov a simple, close-range finish that brought Turkmenistan within a goal. Any hopes of a comeback were extinguished 10 minutes later, though, when the referee sent off the goalkeeper Nikita Gorbunov for handling the ball after coming out 30 yards from goal to stop Sandjar Ahmadi one-on-one. Having made their three substitutions, Turkmenistan put midfielder Bahtiyar Hojaahmedov in goal.

Ahmadi was Turkmenistan’s bane again in the 83rd minute, drawing a second red card when Serdar Annaorazov dragged him down from behind while through on goal. Shayesteh’s shot from the resulting free kick caught Hojaahmedov in two minds; he succeeded only in palming the ball into his own net.

Afghanistan, who had drawn three times and lost four in their first seven Challenge Cup matches, top Group B on goals scored, being level on points and goal difference with the Philippines.

pfreelend@thenational.ae

Follow our sports coverage on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE

Published: May 22, 2014 04:00 AM

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