Azkals far from ready for AFC Cup

- Olmin Leyba () - February 13, 2012 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Azkals fell to a superior Uzbekistan Olympic team in a friendly Saturday night in Dubai (early Sunday in Manila), 0-3, in a setback that showed how much work the Pinoy booters need to get real ready for their upcoming AFC Challenge Cup campaign.

The White Wolves, in tip-top shape and match sharp being in the midst of the London Olympics qualifiers, poured it on against the defense of the Azkals, taking 21 shots all throughout the contest, 10 of them on-goal.

They found the back of the net thrice against an Azkals team that has some mainstays playing in a different position, courtesy of Kenja Turaev (12’) who opened scoring and substitute Ivan Nagaev (42’ and 55’), who nearly pulled off a hat-trick.

“I think we faced a strong Uzbekistan side but our objective was mainly to learn and develop our homegrown players who don’t have the opportunity to play this level of opposition in their local leagues,” Azkals coach Michael Weiss said as quoted by www.sport360.com.

Weiss started a mix of old and new faces – Roland Muller, James Younghusband, Jason Sabio, new recruit Luis Guirado, Carli de Murga, Angel Guirado, Marwin Angeles, Jason de Jong, Misagh Bahadoran, Denis Wolf and Phil Younghusband – against the Uzbeks, currently the Group B leader of the third round of preliminaries of AFC Asian Qualifiers for the London Games.

James, who wore the captain’s armband in the absence of injured Chieffy Caligdong and Aly Borromeo, played rightback for the first time since his Chelsea days, while Bahadoran manned the left wing vice Caligdong. Defender Luis Guirado and forward Ruben Doctora debuted in an Azkals uniform while Wolf, playing his second outing, teamed up with ace striker Phil up front for the first time.

“We fielded younger players in the first half and a lack of coordination and a few mistakes from us got punished severely and quickly, but the spirit of the group was great. Our problem is we don’t have enough training time together. We have to link better and there must be more support from the midfielders,” said Weiss.

Uzbekistan bombarded the Azkals with nine shots early on, with Temurkhodja getting first good crack, rounding Muller but hitting the post on his open shot.

Turaev completed his own one-on-one foray into the box against Muller a couple of minutes later, slotting the ball in after a through-ball.

Nagaev replaced Turaev, who hurt his hamstring, and gamely picked up from where he left off.

Nagaev rolled it home after beating the offside trap to make it 2-0 three minutes before the half then scored again after the Azkals failed to clear their lines at the 55th. Nagaev got into position for a third goal two minutes later, but sliding Sabio blocked his shot.

The Azkals left yesterday for Doha, where they are slated to play Qatari first-division club Al Ahli tonight, hopeful they learned valuable lessons from the Uzbek match.

“It is a defeat that doesn’t harm us because we are planning to be strong on March 9 in our opening match (in the Challenge Cup against North Korea),” said Weiss. “We are expecting a couple of professional players who are not here at the moment and that’s why we are choosing such matches. In the long term this will pay off for the development of our football.”

Caligdong, who could only join the team in light practices because of his knee injury, said: “ok LNG yan part yan ng camp natin para sa March 9. We believe Azkals (It’s okay, that’s all part of the training camp.”

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