Azkals win over powerhouse North Korean team

The Azkals beat North Korea.

I repeat.

The Azkals beat North Korea– a team that has been to the World Cup just 6 years ago (!!!). And I was there to witness it at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

It was a relatively cool Tuesday night, with 7,351 fans making their way to the RMS to watch the Philippine Azkals tackle the superior North Korean team on home soil. A couple of months ago, the Azkals held the North Koreans to a scoreless draw in Pyongyang, in front of the massive NoKor home crowd. Reeling from a five-game losing streak, the Azkals came prepared and undeterred, with only a win in mind.

The start list was a surprise. There was no Phil Younghusband and Stephan Schrock on the frontlines (blame it on injuries). Miguel Tanton was on the list despite it being his very first callup. Misagh Bahadoran, who we’re used to see as a winger, was to play as a Center Forward. Iain Ramsay was nowhere to be found in the starting XI. Little did everyone know, Coach Dooley, whose contract expired after the game, had plans up his sleeve.

The NoKor team was a tough act to beat. Their superiority showed all throughout the first half with one too many close calls and missed shots on goal. Add to that the knowledge that the Azkals barely had time to practice, resulting in miscommunication between the players, particularly Tanton and Misagh.  “We had the worst travel schedule out of all of them. We were all over the world, all over the air,” Dooley lamented at the post-match presser.

  Despite the difficulties they encountered even before the game, it was their performance that mattered– and boy, did they deliver. The Azkals’ defending was superb, with Neil Etheridge manning the goalpost and Amani doing everything he could to protect the goal. Ott played skillfully at midfield. Patino was technical up top.  It was at the 43rd minute that Misagh connected with Javi for a goal, as the entire stadium erupted into a thunderous celebration. The fanfare was short-lived, as the visitors scored a goal of their own, right before the halftime whistle.

  After the halftime break, the NoKor team scored another goal to gain a one-point lead over the home team. Iain Ramsay and James Younghusband (who got another shot at the NT after being shunned for a couple of months) came in to add fresh legs to the squad. The substitutions proved to be a good call as James and his leadership skills boosted the team’s bravado, while Ramsay scored the Philippines’ winning goal right before Full Time. Manny Ott’s goal (second of the Azkals in the game) was also a sight to behold as Manu displayed master skill and command of the midfield all throughout the game.

It’s been a while since a home game has brough thismuch excitement to Azkals fans everywhere. I think most had low hopes for a good outcome because of North Korea’s experience, but boy am I sure everyone was glad to have been completely surprised by the team’s good performance.

“It’s all about work, being disciplined, being organized. The difference of a world class team is the time you take to realize a situation. It’s work, work, work,” Dooley explained.

“We created our chances and we scored (out of them). They scored because of individual mistakes,” he added.

  When asked about his takeaway from the match, Dooley answered furtively, “We have to believe that we can actually beat teams that have gone to the World Cup. We can believe that one day we can make it. It starts now.”

Yes, Coach. We believe more than ever.

P.S. It is also worth noting that last night’s game was Juani Guirado’s last match for the Azkals. You will be missed, Juani.