Philippines, Afghanistan feeling seasick after AFC Challenge Cup draw

'We were laughing about getting seasick in the beginning,' Philippines football coach Thomas Dooley tells The National's Paul Freelend, 'We said ... we should take some pills for seasickness. But now we actually need it.'

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Paul Freeland

Hithadhoo, Maldives // Of all the things the Philippines packed for their trip to the Maldives for the AFC Challenge Cup, sea legs must not have been high on the list.

Afghanistan and the Philippines endured rough seas while traveling from their base in Herathera to Hithadhoo Stadium, and their queasiness likely was not helped by the 0-0 draw that left both teams looking up at Turkmenistan, who opened Group B with a 5-1 defeat of Laos.

“We were laughing about getting seasick in the beginning,” Philippines coach Thomas Dooley said. “We said that when we go to the Maldives we should take some pills for seasickness. We were just joking around, but now we actually need it.”

Despite arriving in Hithadhoo almost an hour before Afghanistan and kickoff being pushed back an hour, the Philippines still looked all at sea at times in the first half.

Dooley was forced into changes before the match as six players came down with seasickness. Stephan Schrock and Daisuke Sato recovered and were able to start, while Paul Mulders was withdrawn from the starting lineup before the match and replaced by Chris Greatwich. He, in turn, departed midway through the first half after taking a poke in the eye.

“Not everything went the way we wanted. I don’t know how long we were on the ocean with all the wind and the waves. We had to go to another boat, and in the end I don’t know how long we stayed there,” Dooley said. “We were happy we didn’t have to play right away and started a little bit later. We talked to the organisation if we could change players at the warm-up because we didn’t know if those players could play.”

Afghanistan kept the Philippines defence on their heels for much of the first half, playing fast and direct with long balls behind the Azkals’ back line. Goalkeeper Neil Etheridge rarely had to exert himself too much, though, as poor decisions and final balls kept half-chances from becoming something more dangerous.

The Afghans also found success in defending from the front, pressing with their front four and harrying the Philippines out of their preferred approach of building from the back. That still left set pieces, though, and James Younghusband nearly put the Azkals in front late in the first half with a header that hit the bar and bounced back into play. Mansur Faqiryar, the Afghan goalkeeper, easily gathered Younghusband’s follow-up shot.

“In the beginning, we did it [pressing] well, but it’s hard running to do that, and it’s not easy to do against a good team like the Philippines,” Afghanistan coach Erich Rutemoller said. “They are able to combine and get out of the pressure, and once they get out of the pressure, it’s hard for us to defend. We automatically went a little bit back and tried it more from the midfield, and defensively we did pretty well. They didn’t have too many chances, mostly from set plays.”

Looking more like themselves, the Philippines made a fast and feisty start to the second half, breathing life back into a match that threatened to be dragged down by fatigue and high humidity.

Schrock put the biggest charge of the match into the pro-Azkals crowd in the 73rd minute. His cross after a hard-charging run up the right flank bounced back off the crossbar, and only a flying save from Faqiryar stopped Sato’s follow-up shot from finding the top corner. The Afghans also nearly snatched a winner from a late set piece, only to be foiled by the same crossbar that earlier denied Younghusband.

The Philippines return to action on Thursday against Laos, with three points essential to go into the Group B finale against Turkmenistan with any level of comfort. Dooley’s side will receive a boost with the return of captain Rob Gier and leading goal-scorer Phil Younghusband from suspension, not to mention the subsiding of any lingering effects of seasickness.

“I know how much the players wanted it, and that maybe was a little too much in the beginning,” Dooley said. “Sometimes you go in a game like this and you lose it, so it’s a positive that we didn’t lose. We created chances, we played better the longer the game went, and that makes me positive about the next games.”

Afghanistan, meanwhile, continue their search for their first Challenge Cup win in Thursday’s late kickoff against Turkmenistan. Like his counterpart, Rutemoller said he saw reasons to be hopeful of a place in the semi-finals.

“I’m optimistic that in the next two games we have a big chance to win and go on,” he said. “The best thing for me is we created chances, good chances. We didn’t score, but we created chances. That’s what I want to see, not just kick and go, but to combine, to cross and to finish, and that is what they did. I think this game and this result helps the players to be confident.”

Turkmenistan 5, Laos 1

A first half of promise quickly turned sour for Laos as Turkmenistan ran out 5-1 winners in the early kickoff at Hithadhoo Stadium.

Khampheng Sayavutthi made sure his country’s first goal in a continental tournament was one to remember, thumping home a bicycle kick to give Laos the lead after 34 minutes. Tiny Boumalay’s free kick from the left wing was flicked on by Soukaphone Vongchiengkham at the near post and fell to Khampheng, whose acrobatic shot flew past Turkmenistan goalkeeper Nikita Gorbunov and into the roof of the net.

Confusion and an unforced error quickly allowed Turkmenistan back into the match, though. Laos appeared to be poised for an odd-man break at the halfway line when the ball spun free after a Turkmenistan foul. Lembo Saysana had the ball and was clear behind the Turkmenistan defence, but he stopped playing and appeared to wait for a whistle from referee Ko Hyung-jin, who had allowed play to continue but eventually blew for the free kick.

Laos then gave the ball away straight from the set piece, allowing Turkmenistan to counter-attack. Goalkeeper Vathana Keodouangdeth kept out the initial shot from Gubanch Abylov, but the ball rebounded off the crossbar and his head before falling to Dovlet Bayramov, who prodded home the loose ball.

Norio Tsukitake, the Laos coach, said his inexperienced squad got down on themselves after letting their lead slip.

“In the first half, there was only one mistake,” he said. “We need to control ourselves and our psychology better after a mistake. After that mistake, our performance dropped and we played negatively. That is our problem.”

Turkmenistan, old hands at this event after finishing runners-up to North Korea in the previous two editions, made their experience count in the second half and piled on the pressure.

Didar Durdiyev converted a penalty kick less than two minutes into the second half, and the lead grew to 3-1 when Vathana palmed an Umidjan Astanov corner kick into his own net. Durdiyev completed his double 15 minutes from time, turning in a cross from Farhad Italmazov after the latter’s surging run up the right flank, and Bahtiyar Hojaahmedov completed the scoring with a looping shot two minutes later.

Despite the resounding result, Turkmenistan coach Rahim Kurbanmamedov was less than thrilled with his team’s performance.

“It was not our best game, but the result is very important and the first game is always difficult,” he said.

“It is always bad when you give up a goal, and I am not very satisfied by the play of our team. The team can play better. I cannot say exactly what is the reason I am not satisfied, but we will think about it and discuss it later when we analyze the game.”

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