Saturday, 26 March 2011

Azkals win, advance to AFC Challenge Cup 'Elite 8'

Posted by chardyboy on Saturday, March 26, 2011 0 comments


MANILA, Philippines – Needing a performance worthy of their reputation, the Philippine Azkals stood up and delivered.

The national football team, its back against the wall, demolished Bangladesh, 3-0, as it etched another historic mark in the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup group stage qualifying last night at the Aung San Stadium in Rangoon, Myanmar.

Before a tiny group of flag-waving Filipino fans, Ian Araneta ended his scoring slump with an ice breaker before Filipino-Spanish standout Angel Aldeguer Guirado struck twice in the second half as the Filipinos advanced to the finals of the prestigious tournament for the first time since its establishment in 2006.

“On to the final eight. What a sweet victory! History in the books once more! Thank you everyone for your undying support,” Azkals skipper Aly Borromeo said on his Twitter.

It was a massive victory for the Filipinos, who badly needed a win entering the match to stay alive after being held to two draws in their first two matches against Palestine (0-0) and Myanmar (1-1).

But the Azkals, who installed themselves as one of the emerging football powers in the region, played to their potential, followed national coach Hans Michael Weiss’ battle plan to the letter and were rewarded.

“The game plan was put into action and it worked perfectly,” Weiss said of the Azkals, who proved relentless in attack despite playing their third game in five days.  

Araneta put the Philippine Azkals ahead after the 41st minute, but the floodgates only opened after the break with Guirado scoring twice when the Filipinos already appeared toying with their rivals with impeccable wing plays.

A proud product of Barotac Nuevo in Iloilo City, Araneta scored his first goal in nine matches when he picked up a loose ball from Guirado from the right flank, which he later converted despite being partially blocked by the Bangladeshi goalkeeper.

Araneta later turned a provider when his low header from the back post found an unmarked Guirado, who took advantage of the wide space for a spectacular header that doubled the lead 14 minutes later.

The 26-year-old Guirado, who hardly speaks English or Filipino and whose mother, Angela Aldeguer, hails from Ilagan City in Isabela, later scored on right foot in the 79th when he picked up a loose ball from 20 yards outside the box.

It was great relief effort for Guirado, who lived up to his tough role as reliever for the injured and absent star striker in Phil Younghusband.

“We can’t still believe we won the match. And now we’re in the finals,” Araneta, who turned 29, on March 2, said of the Azkals who are expected to arrive in the country early Sunday morning.

Araneta’s shot actually broke a long dry spell dating back to last year or since he completed a rare hat trick in the Azkals 5-0 thumping of the Timor Leste in the Suzuki Cup last year.

With the victory, the Filipinos finished with five points behind group leader Palestine, which went on to beat Myanmar, 2-1, to gain seven points and secure the other finals slot.

Bangladesh finished the group stage with three points, while the hosts Myanmar with one.
Aside from the Azkals and Palestine, the others teams which made it in the Elite 8 are India (2008 champ), Turkmenistan, Maldives, Tajikistan (2006 champ). Expected to join the group is World Cup qualifier North Korea.

“Great win, good feeling, priceless!!! Thank you all for the support, couldn't have done it without you guys!” said Anton Del Rosario who also made a stellar job in the back line.


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